Concerns over online self-diagnosis

A growing trend for people to self-diagnose and self-medicate their health conditions using the Internet has medical specialists sounding a warning.

They are urging people to treat information they get on the Internet with scepticism, and one specialist is calling for a ‘‘trusted central portal'' to be established so people can at least be directed to proper health information.

A public lecture in Christchurch tonight will address advances in using the Internet to teach medical students, but the average person's use of it is becoming a bigger issue.

While public information should never be filtered, pharmacologist Prof Evan Begg said much health information on the Internet was wrong or biased.

‘‘By definition, stuff that comes from drug companies is biased. As medical professionals we despair a bit about people having too strong an idea about what they have read on the net,'' Dr Begg said.

‘‘They are doing it from their own position of health and emotion, which means they tend to take out of what's on the net whatever they are really looking for.''

When people then bought drugs over the Internet, the risks were high because ‘‘if you get the diagnosis wrong, any drug that you are giving is the wrong drug''.

‘‘They can order stuff on the web, and I don't know why they are allowed to legally import stuff which is prescription-only in New Zealand. I don't know why the Government allows that.''

People who suffered ill effects from the drugs were also less likely to ‘‘fess up'' to health professionals about buying them over the Internet.

Prof Les Toop, of the University of Otago, said that while people accessing the Internet could find helpful information, too often it was driven by someone trying to make a buck.

New Zealand needed some ‘‘trusted, independent consumer health information available on the web'', preferably ‘‘through a central portal that allows people to find trusted information''.

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