Can Google be your doctor?


FILE- In this Sept. 5, 2018, file photo an empty chair reserved for Google’s parent Alphabet, which refused to send its top executive, is seen before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Momentum is gaining in Washington for a privacy law that would sharply reduce the ability of the largest technology companies to collect and distribute people’s personal data. Behind the drive for a law is rising concern over private data being compromised or distributed by Facebook, Google and other tech giants that have earned riches from marketing consumer information. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

We live in an age of consumerism, instant gratification and access to copious amounts of information—both factual and fictional. This environment is creating a willing market for online services that provide specific medications to self-diagnosing individuals . Did WebMD tell you that your symptoms are indicative of migraines? There’s a website to buy medicine for that. Are you suffering from erectile dysfunction? There’s a website for that too. Do you find yourself in need of birth control? Believe it or not, you can order it online. Services like Cove, Hims and Nurx directly provide consumers with their medications of choice, at times linking them to doctors for internet consultations first or otherwise just offering the product.  

These companies cater to the increasing tendency of interactions to occur online: Communication, shopping and now healthcare. Via these sites, patients can send online surveys to physicians in exchange for a prescription, cutting out the hassle associated with meeting with one’s doctor. Online medication services may thus appear more appealing than the time commitment and sometimes lengthy or uncomfortable conversations associated with traditional healthcare practices. However, the nature of these websites encourages people to believe that their own internet searches are sufficient for diagnosis of a condition and only a questionnaire or brief digital connection needs to confirm. This is a dangerous assumption that could have dire consequences. People who seek out online websites to medicate a disease that they have self-diagnosed are more likely to be biased in filling out an online quiz to acquire that prescription. This could result in taking unnecessary or even harmful medication.  

Turning to Cove to treat signs of a migraine may not be wise, because most people do not have the medical knowledge to correctly diagnose and treat their symptoms. Even if a self-diagnosis is in fact accurate, health conditions do not occur in a bubble. That is to say, visiting a doctor may reveal underlying issues or other conditions that a patient may simply have missed. Maybe your migraine is actually a result of something larger like coronary artery disease. Or, your migraines could be stress-induced, and addressing the major stressor in your life could therefore be a sufficient treatment that would not require medication. Erectile dysfunction patients, targeted by the company Hims, could in fact be afflicted with depression, high blood pressure, or diabetes. These could all cause performance issues but not need a band-aid ED medication. Without the visit to your doctor and accompanying thorough patient history to assess a variety of physical, social and other factors, your condition could very easily be misdiagnosed or inefficiently treated.  

It is important to establish a good relationship with your primary care physician and schedule annual appointments to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Your primary care physician will have a good understanding of who you are and what factors may be affecting your health. Consistent visits will keep your physician up-to-date on your medical history, making your physician a vital source of knowledge and information if you ever do experience a health concern. Your primary care physician will be able to address your worries and, if necessary, refer you to the proper specialist who will be better equipped to handle your situation. Online services cannot replicate the relationship that each individual should have with one’s primary care physician. They will never be able to replace the value of a personal interaction with a doctor who can absorb the full details of a patient’s afflictions and make a proper diagnosis. Therefore, consumers should think twice before turning to an online retailer to solve their medical problems, even if that means dissociating from the online realm to enter the real one. 

Veronica Eskander is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at   

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