General Health Friday November 20, 2015

How Can We Become Expert Patients?

What going on here? There's loads of health information available, yet the health service is under massive strain. Are we terrifying ourselves on Google then rushing to the doctor? Or perhaps no one is actually looking at health information; instead we're shouting 'GIVE ME ANTIBIOTICS I COUGHED' at our GPs.

During Self Care Week the Self Care Forum is encouraging everyone to be an expert patient. OK, that's fine - but why should we when there's an NHS that we pay for?

Here are some of the pros and cons of self-diagnosis and care.

The Pros

Pharmacists Take The Strain Off GPs

Pharmacists are underutilised and they have years of training. If you've got a cold, hay-fever, haemorrhoids or an upset stomach you can ask your pharmacist for help instead of taking time off work for a probably unnecessary doctor's appointment.

Catching Something Early

It's tempting to ignore symptoms when we're busy, but a quick Google is a lot easier than waiting two weeks for a doctor's appointment and then arriving late because you couldn't park or your kids played up.

Good Support

Mental health particularly benefits from online support. There are plenty of communities that exist outside World Of Warcraft that help support individuals.

You're More Likely To Do It

Men are especially guilty of health procrastination. Looking for advice online or at the pharmacy is simpler than going to the doctor. If it's easier - they're more likely to do it.

The Cons

Terrifying Yourself For No Reason

We've all done it. Frightened ourselves stupid by Googling symptoms of backache and diagnosing spinal cancer, or looking up psoriasis and discovering it's an auto-immune disease that results in death - PANIC! Blood pressure is sky high until we can get a GP appointment to be told it's nothing much.

Convincing Yourself The Lump Is Nothing

We take the place of a qualified professional when we research our own symptoms. For some diseases this is not good, not good at all, because minor symptoms can hide larger ones to a GP trained to see that kind of stuff.

Misinformation Online

It's on the Internet so it's true' - a quote from Abraham Lincoln there. Who knows why and for what purpose people post 'information' on the Internet. Stick to authoritative sites.

So What To Do?

The Self Care Forum manifesto states that 'self-care does not mean no care. We need to promote the use of health services as a way of augmenting and supporting personal care decisions.'

It's no lie that we need to take more responsibility for ourselves - we're slipping further into bad health - a tax on sugar because we can't eat vegetables? A billion people obese by 2025? What a state we're in. What can we do?

  • Use the Internet or a pharmacy to find out about healthy eating or how to treat minor symptoms and also as research for bigger issues such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes for example.

  • Early learning - information about health needs to start in school, followed by engaging health campaigns for adults.

  • Only use sites run by health services.

  • Pay attention to campaigns stating that colds won't kill us.

  • Wash Your Hands

  • Use apps from the health service detailing self care steps

Perhaps in time our health services will fully utilise social media, it's a powerful and effective way of communicating information. If we all start looking at health information instead of cat funnies we could save all our lives.

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