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Doctor, doctor, I feel like a cyberchondriac.


I really don't see the big deal about being a doctor. Why spend 10 years of your life training to be a GP when all you need is a computer and a rampant imagination?

I've been "doctoring" myself for some time now and somehow I've managed to survive most serious medical conditions known to man and dog – although the latter was diagnosed when I ended up on a veterinary medicine website by mistake.

I've amassed so much medical knowledge that you'd think friends and family would, at the slightest sniffle, subject themselves to my care but astonishingly that's not the case.

Instead of heading for Dr Jackie's waiting room where I can diagnose practically anything at the click of a mouse and a few hours surfing chat rooms, they insist on doing it the boring oldfashioned way through the NHS.

Now I find I'm not alone in blazing my self–taught medical trail. Dr Thomas Fergus of Baylor University in Texas has revealed that eight out of 10 American adults get their medical information on the Internet.

But just as great power comes with great responsibility, great medical knowledge comes with great opportunities to scare the pants off yourself on a regular basis.

There's been times when my long–suffering husband has threatened to throw the computer out of the window as I surf ailments in the wee small hours.

Spend a short amount of time on the Internet, especially in the chat rooms and forums populated by our American cousins, and it's incredible how often a prolonged sniffle ends up as smallpox and a sore throat is almost certainly the forerunner of the Black Death.

This may seem that I'm being flippant about what could be very real and terrifying medical conditions but I'm not. Dr Fergus says this growing "cyberchondria" is an obsession that can be harmful. I confess that on more than one occasion I've ended up deeply upset after my relentless surfing has diagnosed something awful.

While people with real ailments can find solace and information online with fellow sufferers, the scope of the Internet also opens a door to information on all sorts of rare conditions.

Forums are packed with people obsessing about their three month–long coughs with others piling in to recount similar symptoms that ended up fatal. But after a scare, people rarely take time to come back to say it all turned out to be nothing.

It's a difficult balance. On one hand this new wealth of medical knowledge can inform and empower us but it can also turn the worried well into nervous wrecks. But most dangerous of all, research here recently found more Brits were self–diagnosing on the net and not going to the real medical experts until it was too late.

That, I'm afraid, is when a little medical knowledge becomes a truly dangerous thing.

"New wealth of medical knowledge can inform but turn worried into nervous wrecks


WAITING ROOM Jackie can diagnose almost anything with a click of a mouse
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Title Annotation:News; Opinion, Columns
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 13, 2013
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