Carol Goyal
May 17, 2021

Blog: How Dr. Google is encouraging the 'IDIOT' Syndrome

Dr. Google is increasingly becoming a substitute for the good ole general practitioner and the author explains how it's leading to nasty side-effects

Photo by on Unsplash
Photo by on Unsplash
What on earth, you are bound ask, is an IDIOT Syndrome? Well, the Internet Derived Information Obstruction Treatment – IDIOT Syndrome is one of the biggest problems confronting doctors in the control and cure of the current pandemic. Medically termed as cyberchondria, it is the phenomenon where a person blindly trusts the information provided on the internet and starts to self-medicate basis that. The internet offers a lot of information which is good and helps in increasing awareness, but all the information dispensed in Google searches is not necessarily verified, accurate or replicable in all medical situations. Doctors say Dr. Google is increasingly becoming a substitute for the good ole general practitioner (popularly referred to us the ‘GP’) as the first port of call when feeling unwell. And that is the trigger for the IDIOT Syndrome.
Even before the onset of Covid-19, netizens were increasingly searching the web before heading to consult a doctor. But with the onset of the virus and the fear of even greater probability of catching an infection at a doctor’s clinic or hospital, many people started postponing the looping in of a doctor. So, rather than tele-consult a doctor (if the fear of physically getting infected was very pronounced), a lot of the younger lot have been depending on Dr. Google for checking precautions, symptoms ratification, disease manifestation, medicines and even long term cure. This, however, is not necessarily ideal. A real doctor is best qualified to take important and necessary decisions after considering all aspects of a person’s illness, desired treatment, and treatment logistics.
The problem is, while Dr. Google certainly has a vast quantity of information, it lacks discernment. What this means is that while it’s pretty easy to find lists that sound like your symptoms, most of us don’t have the medical training to understand the other factors that go into making a medical diagnosis, like personal and family history. And neither does Dr. Google. This is such a common issue that there’s a running joke between healthcare professionals that if you Google a symptom (any symptom), you’ll inevitably be told you have cancer. And this rabbit hole into fast, frequent, and (usually) false diagnoses can lead to more Googling. And a lot more of anxiety. In fact, this has become such a common occurrence that psychologists have coined a term for it: cyberchondria, as mentioned before. It is the state when your anxiety increases due to health-related searches. So, while the possibility for experiencing this increased anxiety related to internet searches for medical diagnoses and information may not be necessary, it sure is common.
As more people are self-medicating with information gleaned from Google searches, doctors say such attempts are interfering with Covid-19 treatment today, across the spectrum. They have appealed to people not to let the IDIOT Syndrome hurt their efforts to save Covid patients. Doctors treating Covid patients for several months say that IDIOT Syndrome is actually blocking access to treatment. Some Google their symptoms and are self-medicating, making the situation more dangerous. Doctors warn that besides interfering with the treatment, IDIOT Syndrome also causes depression and fear among the public as untruths and half-truths get discussed, shared and viralised – further multiplying the problem. 
Doctors say those addicted to googling stuff are suffering more in the pandemic. Those turning to the internet for every single issue are badly affected - rather than reaching the hospital, people with symptoms are relying more on medication they find on the internet. Even as they reach the hospital after their symptoms have grown severe despite self-medication, patients refuse to tell doctors the medication they took! Doctors across the country are holding their heads in horror. 
In these troubled times, it is best not to indulge in the IDIOT syndrome. 
- The first negative side effect of being dependant on Dr. Google is that searching for information based on symptoms can be awful for your emotional state. Using Google, or other tools, can make you feel worse and increase your health anxiety. 
- A Google search can also create a second nasty side effect if you search the internet when you look up a disease. You will see a list of possible symptoms on almost any web site you look at. And many of the symptoms are fairly common and will overlap with a lot of possible problems which may have nothing to do with you. But you get worried and even more sick. 
- The third nasty side effect for googling medical information has to do with misinformation. If you Google COVID-19, you will find lots. For example, suggestions that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine might be cures haven’t been supported by reliable medical research, which is tending to show these drugs are ineffective. You will also find suggestions about drinking bleach – this is an old set of misinformation that has proposed bleach as a cure for a variety of problems. But bleach is incredibly dangerous.
Moral of the story: don’t be an IDIOT. It is a self-perpetuating syndrome best avoided for self, family and friends.
Carol Goyal is a Mumbai based writer who covers different contemporary issues.
Campaign India

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