According to a “recent study,” conducted by a company that maintains an online self-diagnostic tool and then misinterpreted by some website on the internet, “1 in 4 British women has misdiagnosed themselves on the Internet.” Mind you, this wasn’t just posted on any old internet, it was posted on the Internet, so it’s totally legit, guys. I believe it. (By the way, Jezebel has some commentary that, while not problem-free, tickles the funny bone.)
Regardless, it raises some important questions about the role of diagnosis and self-diagnosis. When overused or used irresponsibly, self-diagnosis on the internet can lead to a lot of unnecessary worry. It’s an especially big problem in a culture that does not openly discuss bodies or illness, making it difficult to determine what is “normal” and “abnormal” for a body to do. Female bodies, disabled bodies, older bodies, trans bodies, and non-white bodies, in particular, are susceptible to this kind of worry. If your body was never “normal” to begin with, how can you possibly know if something is wrong? If your body has always been strange or mysterious or untrustworthy, when does it cross the line from weird to dangerous, or sick?
I don’t have exact answers to these questions. I do know, however, that since the majority of people cannot afford to see a doctor every time their body aches or something leaks, and since most female, aging, disabled, trans, and non-white bodies (to name a few) are not given serious consideration in the doctor’s office, the internet is an important diagnostic tool. Several years ago, for reasons I can’t remember, I found a diagnosis for myself on the internet, and it was a major turning point. As far as I knew, this was the way that I had always been, but at that time, I started to realize that it wasn’t the way that I would always have to be. It didn’t change my anxiety, but just having a name for it allowed me two conceptualize the phobia and my personality as two separate things.
When I later filled out an inventory or questionnaire, I hit every one of the symptoms. But I never would have known that these were symptoms without coming across that page on the internet. How could a doctor have possibly diagnosed me if I never expressed that anything was wrong?
Of course, my story might be unusual, and it might be somewhat unique due to my class privilege. Still, I maintain that the internet should have a place in diagnosis, since no doctor can ever know a person’s body better than the person themself. What do you think? Does self-diagnosis cause more harm than good? How can the internet be used or changed to improve diagnosis and available medical information?