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Click risk: Dr Google’s not an ideal physician

Update: October, 13/2016 - 09:00
Many people check out health care information and ask for advice on medical problems on Google. — VNS Photo

M was not in good health.

She suffered from body pain, swollen joints and gastric haemorrhage. One day, she started vomiting blood and was rushed to the HCM City Medicine and Pharmacy University from An Giang Province in the Mekong Delta.

The 42-year-old woman was treated at the hospital and sent home with medicines, prescriptions and an appointment for follow-up.

However, after taking the first batch of the prescribed medicines, she did not return to the hospital for the scheduled check up.

Based on advice from a neighbour and information that she found on the Internet, she chose a different drug made, ostensibly in Cambodia. It eased her pains in the beginning but after three months of regular use, she was back in the hospital, her symptoms worse.

Dr Cao Thanh Ngọc, who treated M, said she was suffering from Cushing’s syndrome, a side effect of treatment with corticosteroids.

Self-medication and reliance on pharmacists instead of doctors have been practiced in Việt Nam for a long time, but this habit has got a fillip because of the Internet, where information and misinformation on all subjects abound.

B, another arthritis patient, decided to supplement his doctor’s prescription with other drugs and treatment, including using a poultice of “forest leaves” on his painful joints. He found information on alternative treatments on the Internet.

His hope for greater relief and/or cure has landed the 45-year-old man from the southern province of Tây Ninh in serious trouble.

Doctors at the HCM City-based Hospital for Traumatology & Orthopaedics have informed B that because of major caseation (necrosis with conversion of damaged tissue into a soft cheesy substance), they are going to have to amputate his foot.

M and B are just two examples of increasing numbers of people checking out healthcare and medical information on the Internet, asking for advice on medical problems, and getting it, both from doctors and patients.

With so much information just a mouse-click away, many people are tempted to find better, faster cures for their ailments, from common colds and flu to lift-threatening diseases like cancer.

Other motivating factors are the overloading of hospitals in the country and a mistrust of the local healthcare system.

Whatever the reason, the practice of “virtual treatments” can lead to “very serious consequences,” doctors warn

Dr Ngọc of the University of Medicine and Pharmacy said complications arising from patients not strictly following their doctors advice and instructions can lead to or aggravate other conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoporosis.

Dr Trần Văn Khanh, director of HCM City’s District 2 Hospital, told the Hải Quan (Customs) newspaper recently that his hospital has been receiving many patients whose conditions had worsened after Internet-based self-treatment at home.

“Self-diagnosis at home can become a hazardous practice,” he said.

“There are many diseases that have same or similar symptoms. And symptoms of a disease can differ from person to person. Without thorough examinations and consultations with doctors, a wrong diagnosis is very likely.”

While there are several websites where helpful health advice is offered by famous doctors, there are many others offering unverified and unreliable information.

Sometimes quacks set up websites to sell a certain drug or treatment.

A female patient at HCM City’s Hospital of Dermatology said she had bought a facial cream following the advice of many women on the Internet.

After a few months of use, the VNĐ200,000 (US$9) cream left her face itchy and full of pimples.

“My doctor says I’ve got a fungal infection which has spread widely – a side-effect of a chemical in the cream,” she said.

Dr Khanh said doctors have consider many factors including the physical condition of a patient, the seriousness of the diseases and the possibility of contracting other diseases before applying their experience and expertise to prescribe an appropriate remedy.

Internet information can help patients understand more about their diseases, but it should only be used for reference, and treatment should be left to qualified doctors, he said.

Nguyễn Trọng Khoa, deputy director of the Administration of Medical Services, Ministry of Health, said seeking treatment advice on the Internet is a common practice not only in Việt Nam but also in many other countries.

“But this habit should be changed to avoid serious consequences,” he said.

“Patients should not blame the overloading of hospitals, because this situation mostly happens in central-level hospitals.

“For normal diseases, people can go to district-level hospitals, private hospitals and clinics where there are professional medical practitioners.

“Just don’t wait until it is too late.” — VNS



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