Google isn’t an MD

Published: November 26, 2011

Google isn't a qualified MD; do not self-diagnose and see a doctor before it is too late. ILLUSTRATION: SHAHERYAR POPALZAI AND ZAHRA PEER

Am I a turncoat? Having spent the better half of my adult life denigrating technology, computers, internet, Facebook and so on, I have finally been converted. Yes, I am now learning how to operate the computer, make an email account and type.

My reservations about social networking are basically privacy issues. People want a witness to their lives. It gives them an angle to ventilate, express, and validate their opinions, mistakes, grievances, aspirations and so on. However, it is an intrusive social network , giving so much access to others about the mundane everydayness of your lives. If I had aloo gosht for lunch why do I need to post it on my wall? Why is scoring likes on a Facebook status of paramount importance? More importantly, why such avid interests in the daily routines of people just like you?

For the people of my generation the internet was akin to the discovery of the wheel; it minimized distances, made people come closer, facilitated the access to knowledge and created new frontiers. The glories of the internet were heralded with much fanfare, great pomp and circumstance.

Yet, as with all things new and untested, through time as the post internet decade has unfolded, it has became clear that certain types of information obtained at the touch of a button may be insufficient and incorrect.

As a doctor, a lot of times I come across people who literally Google their ailments to death.

A very close and dear friend of mine, whose name I’ll withhold, started getting tired easily and had her haemoglobin checked. It was 8.0, which is quite below the average for South-Asian females. Since she was a working mother and was juggling many roles at the same time, she punched in this information on Google and amongst the various reasons given for fatigue and a low Hb, was Anaemia. She was overworked and short on time like all mothers who work. Thus, she believed what Google told her and thinking she was anaemic, promptly started taking a very expensive iron supplement that treats Anaemia.

For two years she took the supplements and her health continued to deteriorate. Finally, we pushed her into going to a doctor after which she was diagnosed with a type of blood cancer or Leukaemia. She was lucky because although diagnosed two years late, she responded to the treatment and her disease is now in remission.

Amongst those who weren’t so lucky was an aunt who tried alternative medicine sites on the net and got to the oncologist when all that could be done was provide pain relief. She died simply because she tried to diagnose herself through the internet.

Remedies for innocuous ailments such as flu, gastroenteritis, and even headaches yield appropriate results, but great caution must be exercised with undiagnosed conditions such as malignancies and systemic disorders like liver and kidney diseases.

People generally punch in their symptoms into the Google search box, and take whatever comes back to them as sound medical advice without verifying it with a doctor. A Google search for headache gives migraine, sinuses and tension as the usual reasons which may fit into a plausible reason but again the age, sex and general health status of the patient are important factors that need to be taken in to consideration. Headaches can be warning signs of more serious ailments especially in the elderly.

Such intransigence can be harmful and at times fatal because information on the internet is streamlined to address a wide audience. Moreover, it has easy to understand descriptions of a disease and does not take into account important details regarding the age, sex, health status and ethnicity of the patient.

The next time you feel the urge to hit the Google button to learn about your ailments remember doctors were put on earth to take over where the internet left off.  Don’t pretend to be your own doctor, and when you feel like there is a problem, it’s ok to pamper yourself by an appointment with that cute General Physician. Humour aside, though it is very important to get a thorough physical examination with baseline tests every six months. Although it may old fashioned and clichéd, but some things are best left in the hands of those who know best.


Mariam Ashraf

A doctor who works in a postgraduate medical institute where doctors come for postgraduate training. Mariam is a teacher, a housewife and a mother who desires the Pakistan that Jinnah dreamed of.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Ali

    Mariam this is very thoughtful and useful article. Thanks for taking out the time to point this out. Thumbs up!Recommend

  • an A level student

    people actually treat their diseases through google??? Thts strange!
    What a risky thing to doRecommend

  • Hamza

    True,so much reliance on google and wikipedia is unhealthy!
    Mariam, you’ve pointed out one of the many lines we must learn to draw between the internet and ourselves.Recommend

  • baseer warraich

    very well done mariam now a days many people resort to treat themselve through google punch finally landthemselve in deep trouble but they only through the hard way.any i am much pleased on great effort of public awareness well done great goingRecommend

  • zuhaa hassan

    well said…Recommend

  • Anonymous

    Very well writtenRecommend

  • Parvez

    Excellent article. People have been medicating themselves much before Google came along.
    Now, its just become easier and with medical costs hitting the roof ( not everyone gets government or company medical cover ) the temptation is strong.Recommend

  • Amna Ahmad

    very well said.i wish people could learn from thisRecommend

  • kirtaas

    hi , excellent….. dear dr. we can publish this article on our website……..

    thank you
    we are waiting.Recommend

  • Maria

    “some things are best left in the hands of those who know best”… true that! you have brought up an important issue… very well written!Recommend

  • acha bacha

    Very informative. Thanks for rising this issue publicly and thanks to ET for publishing such an excellent article.Recommend

  • Rafay Ashraf

    very well written mariam and with an excellent expression too.i hope to see more of your pieces on this bolgRecommend

  • Dr iram

    Google has made many beneficial contributions even in medicine.. yet I really like your style of while I do not entirely agree with the content, I really like your style of writing and hope you will continue to write on various other of luck in the future!!Recommend

  • Dr. Adnan

    I 100% agree with your experience.Recommend

  • samiya

    GOOD ONE! and yes thought provoking :)Recommend

  • samiya

    good one :)Recommend

  • Rafay Ashraf

    waiting for more of your articlesRecommend

  • Huma

    Well said Mariam – hopefully we’ll be seeing more pieces from you?!Recommend

  • Mehr-un-Nisa Syed

    very thought provoking but very realistic at the same time!…….it is always that little things that make a difference in life but most of the time we tend to ignore them until the little things gain substantial weight enough to hinder our life cycle. Some things should really be left for those who know them best.
    Btw Mariam, i think that you have given a really nice expression to your message, i will be looking forward to similar articles from you.Recommend

  • Saen Peaker

    People need more awareness of the stuff, especially Health. But people are not in a mood to listen up carefully, they just want to do self-medication, which in results most of time detoriates health more..Recommend

  • http://[email protected] Girl

    Finally a useful article…Thank you.Recommend

  • ahmed

    indeed a good thing transfered to new generation who even believe that google can resolve their phsychology problems.Actually it simply the laziness of youth including myself that we need evering thing on palm causing physical disorders like obesity,etc.Now if we simply take the example of any fast food franchise people more keenly seeking toward the online order not go by themself to take that stuff.I give this example coz we miss match in almost every field.A doc. devote almost 18 year in medical field to bring physical ease in your but people still trust in self medication what can we say abt that people. Recommend

  • Huma Chauhdary

    Hey ,
    what a good display of thoughts in the article. Love it. I agree hundred percent with you because I, myself have tried treating myself with google a lot of times =p. but for nothing too serious and reading this puts in me the realization that i really should not.
    However, i do want to add in that the doctor’s ever towering fee may be one reason why people would switch to google and internet for remedies. Esp for something not too serious. And the fact that expensive doctors (who charge more) are good and those who do not charge a lot of money are assumed to be nincompoops. Or may be its the opposite. i.e. Good doctors exploit us with more money and ‘bad’ ones don’t.
    Its a little out of context but may be we should also look at the reasons what would cause people not to go to the doctors? is it mere laziness or something else?
    much love

    P.s: I ‘d like to see your reply.

  • Huma Chauhdary
  • Huma Chauhdary

    And i really should stop using Google to fix my health issues and finally go to the doctor ! Recommend

  • Gohar Iqbal

    There can be no second opinion on this issue ! but maybe we should look at why people resort to such acts
    I personally have a pain in my calves that will not go away when i run, i have googled it and it is supposed to be shin splints. I have met doctors regarding this problem but no one has given me a convincing answer or treatment, so i had to go back to finding treatments on google !Recommend

  • Mariam Ashraf

    @Huma Chauhdary: Thank you huma for taking time out to write your comments. I really feel that the youth of today is unnecessarily hooked to the internet ,friends are made on the internet, homework done, assignments submitted and entire lives lived out through facebook. Recommend

  • Usman Farooq

    Amazing article i would say.. the whole thing is that technology has become an important part of everyones life and even though some people never were into technology they have to learn it now if they want to be a part of this emerging world.Recommend

  • Hurriya

    A very insightful article.. truly gets one thinking :)Recommend

  • Huzaifa

    This article made me smile. Well done! I wish more people read this and spread the message
    “google is not a substitute for a doctor”Recommend

  • Spikester from M.Phil Oral Bio

    I completely agree….the problem with this new generation of rapidly flourishing kids is the continuous need to be on top among their social circle….if being active on facebook makes them get likes they would die to upload anything that is happening out of the norm,this is their success story most of the time….and people think that google is their primary physician for they think we always have ulterior motives whenever we are diagnosing….that being said, they think that just by reading a few lines from a stub ,such as Wiki, they are now MD’s and can counter whatever diagnosis we make….little they know, stubs are not a forefront for information derivation rather it is being updated everyday….people might think that doctors are absurd and punitive most of the time but Google can never give you a physical examination ^_^Recommend

  • Ambereen Anwar Imran

    So glad u brought it up. More people need to be warned about this. I wish express wallahs would print it so that it reaches a wider audience.Recommend