Trending these days are a large percentage of adults seeking medical advice online on generally everything – sexual problems, personality problems, psychological problems – you name it. A young man seeks answers from a doctor online because he is ashamed to open up about his sexuality. A 28-year-old woman prefers an online consultation to help her find a cure for her acne flare-ups. In a study of 100 adults ranging from 21 to 40 years old, a whopping 80% either sought an online doctor or simply consulted the internet to search for information about their health issues – medical treatment or procedures, vitamin supplements, or specific medical conditions. Other topics were about home remedies, stress and anxiety, getting help with addiction, and seeking information on a particular health professional.
The question is: Does online health consultation really work? Is it as effective as having a face to face doctor’s visit? According to Mary Ann Dutton, professor for research at Georgetown University Medical Center, “There are a number of studies looking at telemedicine for different kinds of disorders and they tend to be amazingly effective.” Let us examine the benefits and disadvantages of seeking health advice online.
- It’s a good source of additional information after visiting your doctor. A 2007 UK study involving individuals with heart disease and diabetes revealed that they found it helpful to use the web as a supplement for knowledge regarding their disease. Through online consultation, they were able to make quality discussions with their physician. It encouraged them to ask more questions and know more about what they were going through. In a way, they viewed their learned knowledge as a second opinion that they can present to their primary physicians.
- The privacy factor is enticing. In India, most women have found health advice online to be a comforting way to know more about their gynecologic concerns, such as childlessness, ovarian cancer, and painful sex. They talk on how they utilize an online app where you can freely choose your kind of doctor or therapist and ask them about anything and everything, without being judged. They are also able to write anonymous posts about their sexual and personal concerns.
- Online support communities mostly benefit rural residents and the disabled population. The deaf and mute can greatly make use of online groups to communicate and find answers to questions that they otherwise cannot acquire from face to face consults. A significant number of people with mental health problems find solace and a sense of relief just by keeping in touch with other individuals with the same ordeal. Victims of abuse, too, are a population that has immensely taken advantage of online communities, in helping them deal with their traumatic experiences through words of advice and comfort from individuals all over the world.
- Online health consultation is definitely more affordable than face to face doctor visits. You can get help from an online licensed health professional for a price of $80 or below, while medical consultations in an office setting can cost you $150. Virtual consults could substantially reduce the cost of health care, considering fewer instances of ER visits and hospital admissions, especially for minor cases such as fever, cold or a simple bug bite.
- Nothing is more comforting than to be able to know more about your condition and receiving treatment at the comfort of your home, or anywhere for that matter. Making a doctor’s appointment can be daunting, plus the fact that the doctor may not be available when you are. What’s great is that if you’re out on a vacation or a business meeting, you can always be updated by your online doctor. It is also one of the best alternatives for parents and other individuals who work on a 9 to 5 job who are having difficulty scheduling for a doctor’s appointment.
- There may be too much anonymity which is not beneficial for individuals with mental health disorders. Some consults or sessions can be done through chat or messaging, and this can be risky for those who are suicidal, for instance, a bipolar. Clients who wish to stay unknown may be in danger and there would be no way that the therapist or doctor can actually help them.
- It’s not credible for seeking a formal diagnosis. Online health consultations are limited in that the health professional cannot do physical assessments and evaluations to their clients. They can only provide vague ideas based on the information that you have given them. Therefore, it is encouraged that individuals first have a proper doctor’s visit and find out through appropriate tests and procedures their official diagnosis. When this is done, the online health professional can make wiser and more accurate remarks regarding their client’s condition.
- There are a lot of online therapy sites that are not credible. Remember that anyone can build a website and put in any information that they wish. It is imperative that you investigate the sites that you get into. Find out who built the site, if they’re certified and if they’re a legitimate institution. It helps to try out those sites that are popular and contain great reviews from past and current clients.
Online health therapy may not be for everyone, but it has certainly affected many people and has in one way or another helped them lead better lives. It truly depends on what you’re looking for.