Why you should not self-diagnose based on online information
Recently, we were interviewed by the Singapore newspaper, Today, for same titled [Core Concepts] The symptom checker was developed internally off our physiotherapists’ knowledge base. Its primary purpose is to educate the general population and to expand their awareness of potential causes and conditions. The level of health literacy here in Singapore vary quite a bit from our experience. Some are unable to articulate even the specific area of pain and type of pain. Others we have in another group where they have misconceptions of their condition from something they read online, which is ironic. And there are those who seek treatment knowing exactly what’s wrong with them and what needs to get fixed. [T] 2. How accurate is the symptom checker? (I notice the disclaimer states not to substitute the information for proper professional advice.) [CC] No symptom checker for the consumer will ever be 100% accurate and ours is certainly not definitive. But really, it is meant to open minds to new possibilities. Our body’s musculoskeletal system is extremely complex. A problem in one area can cause symptoms to appear in a seemingly unrelated area. For example, issues with the knee can cause low back pain. But yet the knee feels just fine! Patients who seek temporary relief from symptoms through generalised treatments such as massages or better ergonomics often find that the pain reappears down the road. We try to educate patients both online and in the clinic, that the ideal way to fix your pain is to find out the underlying cause and get the necessary treatment for the condition. It is challenging to write about health conditions that the general population is able to grasp and yet with enough detail to be accurate. We try to pitch our writing at slightly higher level than the general population. There are already lots of articles online for that population. So we rather build on that. [T] 3. Pain can be a very subjective symptom – some people deal with pain better than others. When should a person experiencing pain seek professional help? When does pain become an emergency? [CC] When a pain is moderate to severe in intensity, does not ease quickly, is recurrent in nature and is affecting the person’s daily activities. That is when a person should seek professional help. A pain is an emergency when the person starts losing strength and sensation in the upper and lower limb and/or when the pain is getting progressively worse or if the person further develops recent loss of control in the bladder and bowel function. In addition, when a pain is severe and if the person is unable to put any weight through the limb or move the limb without reproducing sharp pain, then it is imperative to seek immediate medical help to assess for fractures. [T] 4. Increasingly, patients are turning to the Internet for health information. Is this a boon or bane – what’s your take on this? [CC] This trend is certainly true from our experience. As with most things, this has both pros and cons. On balance we think it is more boon than bane A knowledgeable patient is able to work more closely with the physiotherapist to get themselves better. And to stay better. While some practitioners may disliked being “challenged” and questioned about their diagnosis, we generally see that as a positive thing. A client that doesn’t understand or appreciate what you do is less likely to comply. With physiotherapy, outside “homework” on exercises and adjustments such as ergonomic setup at work or even simply practicing walking gait patterns for example is important. If the patient doesn’t follow-up in their own after each treatment session, their progress will be slower than it needs to be. And the patient may give up altogether. This trend only becomes a problem when patients become fixated with a condition that they read about and think it fits them to a ‘T’. But that rarely happens.