The Rise of Dr Google Related ‘Cyberchondria’ and How Parents Can and Should Avoid It

The Rise of Dr Google Related ‘Cyberchondria’ and How Parents Can and Should Avoid It

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We’ve all been there, right? One of your kids is sick, but you’re not sure whether it actually warrants making an appointment to see the Dr and sitting in a waiting room (often for much longer than you expect, with other possibly sick and contagious people) only to be told to give Paracetamol and ‘keep an eye on them’ or whether to just skip the whole thing and administer said Paracetamol at home and wait it out.

But then another symptom appears and you’re just not sure if it is something to be concerned about or not. No one wants to be that parent that rushes into the doctor surgery every time her child has a snotty nose. But no one wants to be that parent that misses a red flag and wishes that they had done something sooner. As with all parenting challenges, it can be tricky sometimes to know what to do.

So what do we do? Well, I’d wager a guess that the first thing the majority of us do is whip out our cell phone or open up our laptop and start googling our child’s symptoms. Am I right? Come on, I’ll admit it, if you do. We’re told that we shouldn’t because the internet can be a cesspit of false and misleading information, and that a set of symptoms can easily fit a myriad of different medical conditions leading us to wrongly diagnose the situation and fall victim to so called ‘cyberchondria.’ We’ve heard all these warnings a hundred times, and we know that logically it makes total sense…yet, we can’t resist doing it anyway.

Cyberchondria is a term to describe people who look up their symptoms online and then jump to conclusions about what is wrong with them.

If googling and misdiagnosing our own medical symptoms can lead to anxiety and unwarranted stress, just imagine how much more intensely that anxiety is felt when it is concerning the health and well-being of our children. It’s just not worth the risk of jumping to the wrong conclusion and convincing yourself that your child’s mild temperature is something far more ominous.

Whilst it’s natural to seek out answers and information, what many of us fail to realise, is that we have a goldmine of largely untapped health knowledge and services practically on our doorsteps, and we don’t need to make an appointment or sit in a waiting room to access it. Pharmacies are expanding the range of health services they provide to their patients and are now evolving into community health hubs.

Take the Ask Your Local Pharmacist Challenge

I was recently challenged to take the ‘Ask Your Local Pharmacist Challenge.’ I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but in our country town trying to get an appointment to see a Dr can be difficult at times. For this reason, I’ve come to see my local Pharmacist as my first port of call for minor ailments, and over the years of visiting with either my children or my husband’s elderly grandmother, I’ve built up a fantastic rapport with the staff there. Not only are they on hand to give professional advice or refer us to a doctor if the situation warrants it, they are also aware of my family’s health needs and current medications. The fact that they know us all by name and ask how Granny is doing when we go into the shop is an added bonus.

Only last week my son was complaining about sore eyes. They were pink around the rims and irritating him. Now let me tell you, googling those symptoms can come up with a whole host of possible causes and infections, with images ranging from mild to somewhat disturbing. I’m no doctor obviously, but my guess was a possible case of early-onset conjuctivitis, but I decided to pay a visit to our Pharmacist before calling up the local Dr surgery to make an appointment. (If truth be told, at the fifth week stage of the summer school holidays I dreaded the prospect of having to sit in the Dr surgery for an hour or more whilst my children took it in turns to tell me they were bored…I could endure pretty much anything but that!) It turns out that my son, who had been helping his Dad outside in the garden for the most part of the weekend had some kind of hayfever/eye allergy. My lovely local Pharmacist suggested a simple treatment and my son’s symptoms were dealt with quickly and easily, saving me both time and money…not to mention some fast dwindling sanity!

But, as I’ve learned, there is actually much more on offer at your local Pharmacy than you may realise.

Find the full list here.

I’m talking Mother and Baby Clinics, blood pressure monitoring, vaccination services, diabetes management, bone density testing, quit smoking support, asthma management, and absence from work certificates, to name just a few.

Seriously? Did you have any idea you could possibly access health services at your local Pharmacy?

My children are all at Primary school now, but take me back a few years and I would have loved the convenience and reassurance of having a mother and baby clinic on hand for all those questions you have when you are a new mum. Whilst I had regular monthly visits with my local maternal health nurse in the early days, it would have been especially helpful to just be able to pop into my local pharmacy to get some on-the-spot advice about things that crop up like nappy rash or cradle cap – you know the kind of things you aren’t likely to make an appointment to see the Dr for, but that you don’t want to wait a whole month to ask the health nurse about either!

Not all services are available at all Pharmacies of course, but it is likely that you can find one nearby that offers the service or expertise that you need, and unlike Doctor surgeries, they are often open outside of normal business hours and on weekends too. So my husband, who has been saying that he wants to quit smoking but also can’t find the time to get to the Dr to discuss it due to work commitments during weekdays, now has another option. And you can bet I’ll be passing that nugget of information on to him this weekend!

Check out what services are on offer at your local Pharmacy here.

Of course, it isn’t just children and partners we have to think about, is it? Many of us also have older parents or grandparents to care for too. Our local pharmacy is particularly helpful when it comes to attending to the health of my husband’s 87 year old grandmother. She has so many different types of medication to take on a daily basis that it would be very easy for her to get confused or forget when to take them. Identifying this as a potential problem, the Pharmacist suggested a Dose Administration Aid. So instead of getting multiple bottles of various pills, she now collects a weekly pack. The pack is clearly marked with the days of the week and the times of day e.g. morning, lunchtime etc. so now she simply opens the blister pack in the morning and in that will be whatever tablets she needs to take in the morning, and so on throughout the day. It has been fantastic for her, and it also gives us peace of mind.

If you are caring for older relatives too, it is worth looking into what services are available at your nearest Pharmacist. Many of them now offer flu vaccinations, diabetes management, blood pressure monitoring, cholesterol testing, bone density testing and even bowel cancer screening.

So, next time you have a question about the general health of a family member or yourself why not take the ‘Ask Your Local Pharmacist Challenge’ for yourself. I think you’ll find that they are trained to do more than just dispense medication, and could save you time and money on a visit to your local GP.

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  1. I have to say that while in probably 99.9% of cases ot is definitely best to avoid “Dr Google”, I can say that I am in the 0.1% who actually have been right to use “Dr Google”.
    I have a now 5 year old daughter who since she was 1 month old would get sick (extremely high temperatures in the 39 to 40+ degrees range; vomiting; lathargy; etc) and it would re-occur every single month. We could pretty much work out when it would be she would get sick again. I took her to doctors in the capital city we lived in at the time countless times during these episodes only to be not listened to and be told “it’s just a virus she is fine”. The doctors did not listen to me or my husband telling them we could predict when she would be sick like this again. So I stopped taking her to the doctors. I started searching her symptoms and after months of looking, I started finding information that sounded like it could possibly be what she was experiencing. Soon after we had moved to a country town, I took her to a new doctor, this one told me the same thing as the others. So I tried another doctor at a different surgery. This one listened to me and my husband. He admitted he had never heard of the rare disease we had found, but looked it up and came across the same American hospital page that I had – turns out they’re a very reputable hospital. He referred us to the paediatrician in our town who had actually had a couple of other patients over the years with various forms of this rare diseases, the paediatrician then referred us to the specialists at the state children’s hospital. Aged 2.5 years old my daughter finally got an actual diagnosis that she did in fact have this rare genetic disease that I had found on “Dr Google”.
    Basically my recommendation is, don’t rely on any “diagnosis” you find on the internet, but if the doctors aren’t giving you answers about something and things just don’t seem right, keep trying to find that answer!
    Also if you are a medical doctor- please listen to your patients!! Don’t think you know it all, because no one doctor can know absolutely every medical disease or condition that is out there!

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