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Is online quackery making you sick?

Telemedicine. Online consultation concept.
Telemedicine can be a boon – but consulting doctors online is not without risk.   

Many people who fall ill may turn to the internet to check their symptoms. But doctors are warning that getting yourself checked out online could be damaging to health. 

Medicos in Patna have warned that online check-ups, whilst convenient, could lead to risky behaviour like self-medication if individuals are misdiagnosed. “There can be many diseases having the same symptoms,” said Dr Vinay Kumar, a senior resident doctor at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in the Bihar state capital. “Thus, specific clinical diagnosis is very important before taking medicines.” 

Asserting that diagnosis online “is not a good medical practice as any treatment or medication is advised on clinical diagnosis and assessment, which is not possible through online mediums”, Dr Rajiv Ranjan Prasad, superintendent of the Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH), likened such services to quackery. He stated “they neither provide conclusive diagnosis nor treatment.” As such, it is always preferable to consult a medical professional for a proper consultation and examination. As pointed out by Dr Kumar, “doctors keep a patient’s records confidential. No matter what problem people have, they can frequently consult us regarding any disease.”

Services such as telemedicine have proved a boon in helping doctors to reach populations in areas understaffed by healthcare personnel, going some way towards bridging the accessibility gap dogging Indian healthcare. However, it is important to remember the dangers of using the internet for medical treatment. In the example of telemedicine, doctors have called for regulation in the past. Meanwhile, as previously reported by Health Issues India, social media platforms provide opportunities for fake medical news to spread, encouraging obsolete or even risky treatments for a plethora of health conditions. 

Even online services allowing you to consult with a doctor should be used cautiously, as PMCH’s Dr Swapnil Singh pointed out to The Times of India: “there are many mobile applications to book a doctor based on symptoms of a disease. One can seek doctors’ advice online or through a phone call…But I think it is all wastage of money and time because in the end, the doctor will ask to meet him directly. Besides, it is not allowed ethically for doctors to prescribe any medicine without clinical examination.”

Indeed, if a patient is misdiagnosed, any medication they are prescribed could be futile at best, dangerous at worst. Needless self-medication with antibiotics, for example, could further the crisis of drug resistance in the country. It is important, therefore, to raise awareness among individuals the potential risks of getting your health check-up online and not in a clinic or a surgery – and ensuring that medical practitioners follow codes of conduct whether interacting with patients over the telephone, by messaging, or in the flesh. 

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