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Ian Hulatt: Online self-assessment of mental health problems could facilitate patients seeking help earlier 

Self-diagnosis via the internet: democratisation of health or dangerous mistake? 

Is the advent of self-diagnosis via the internet the true democratisation of health, or are we a click away from misdiagnosis and unwanted consequences? 


Picture. iStock

If you have a record collection, you will know the sense of dread when your turntable starts to emit a pleasure-spoiling rumble. A quick solution is to replace it immediately, but this is obviously expensive. 

So I used an internet search engine to find a potential cause, then with the assistance of a video I found on the web, I soldered in a new motor and saved myself a considerable amount of money. 

In short, a simple solution found after making a diagnosis of the problem and finding the answer.

Cyberchondria

Healthcare, it seems, is also going in this direction, with health professionals now lamenting the emergence of a new condition called ‘cyberchondria’. 

Apparently, people are now seeking professional help not to find out what’s wrong, but to confirm the diagnosis they have already made as a result of their online searches.

Is this the emergence of a true democratisation of health, and the end of the cartels that exist among those who prefer to hold knowledge, or a dangerous emergence of misdiagnosis and possible unwanted consequences?

Triage by app

There’s no doubt people can access good information about their health, and the drugs they are prescribed. But what are we to make of an app that enables you to clarify any doubts you may have about your mental health?

The development of such technology could help people to establish that their low mood is in need of professional attention. It could be the first step in a triage system that enables people to consider their mental health in a safe and anonymous way. 

But any health-related interventions should be exposed to an assessment of their effectiveness and safety, and apps should be no different.

Such an assessment is open to many challenges. But as health professionals, do we not accept the assessment a person makes of their distress before they present to us? 

Is our hesitation obstructing an enhanced assessment that could facilitate earlier seeking of help? 

Technology can be a friend as we know.

Ian Hulatt is consultant editor of Mental Health Practice 
 

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