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The Internet ‘doctor’ aiding self-medication

BY: Judith Amoateng
Many seem to be resorting to Internet searches for answers to their health problems
Many seem to be resorting to Internet searches for answers to their health problems

Google search engine is part of me. I get solutions to a variety of issues from social, health, education and economics. For about a month, I was consistently experiencing severe headache and feeling dizzy.

I was curious to know the cause but I did not want to go to the hospital because I thought it was not serious. My first port of call was Google search engine to type in “cause of constant headache and dizziness”.

Guess what, the results shook my nerves. On the first option I clicked, it suggested that the ailment that had such symptoms included brain tumour and cancer.

The more I read, the more I became scared, so I stopped reading and took some painkillers, hoping I would be relieved.

My experience may just be a drop in the ocean because sharing my experience with friends both at school and work revealed that just like me, many consulted the Internet for medication of their health conditions.

The phenomenon has led to people developing other medical conditions and even resulted in death.

Testimonies gathered show that some patients visit the hospital when the drug prescribed cannot be bought over the counter or not very popular in the various pharmacies.

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Others say they refer to the internet because it is always available and accessible all the time.

In my interviews with people on the subject, the case of Mr Caleb Addo, a student, was somewhat intriguing as what was described by the Internet left him depressed.

He narrated that after getting intimate with his newly found girlfriend through kissing, he felt itchy on his tongue and throat.

“I googled cause of itching on tongue and throat and the result showed that it is a symptom of Human Immune Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV and AIDS),” he said.

Gripped with fear and anxiety, Mr Addo could not but visit the hospital the next morning where he underwent series of tests.

It is not only ordinary persons who consult the Internet but some doctors also access the Internet to understand medical conditions of patients and drug prescriptions.

Ms Mercy Nyame, a civil servant, thinks the phenomenon is thriving due to the busy nature of the working class and general poverty among the people, especially those in the deprived areas, making it impossible for a number of them to visit the hospital for medical care.

Medicinal products are generally divided into prescription and non-prescription medicines. This classification may differ from country to country.

The national authorities must, however, ensure that medicines, categorised as non-prescription medicines, are safe and not harmful to health.
Prescription medicines are those which are only available to individuals on prescription from a physician following a consultation.

These medicines are not safe for use except under the supervision of a physician because of toxicity, other potential harmful effects, the method of use or the collateral measures necessary for use.

Buying medicines from drug peddlers and quack doctors has become the order of the day and the business is booming at the markets where most traders patronise these services.

People choose to buy drugs from these sellers because it is easy to come by, at a cheaper price and it is brought to them in the comfort of their homes and workplaces.

Mobile medical applications

With the advent of the Internet where any desired topic can be researched on, it is easy for people to visit websites such as google, symptom checkers, lab results and so on to determine the cause of their ailment and then prescribe medicine for themselves without seeking medical advice.

The introduction of mobile medical applications has contributed largely to people avoiding hospitals, preferring these applications instead. To a degree, it is helpful but cannot be a guarantee for everyone who visits these applications to determine or find out what is wrong with their system.

The disadvantage of these sites or apps could be that they may not be well licensed, may be operating without any medical experience or practitioner and may not be legally registered, so visitors to these sites are prone to false information or diagnoses due to the health condition they are faced with.

Effects

High suicide rate is an effect of the usage of the mobile medical applications, which is used as an alternative to determine the cause of sickness among individuals.

Another effect could be premature death; wrong prescriptions or information could be given to the individual through the Internet as he or she is desperately in need of a solution.

Also, these individuals may react negatively to their self-prescribed medication or develop another new disease.

Solution

In an interview with Miss Gloria Adomaa Mensah, a doctor at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Kumasi, she said these situations happened all the time and it was bad practice. She also suggested solutions to the practice.

Miss Mensah said the media should advise the public against self-prescription and the use of the internet to find out the causes of their ailment, and rather encourage them to see a health practitioner.

The Ghana Medical Association should also advertise and visit schools, churches and other institutions to raise awareness on the dangers of self-medication.

She also added that people should have the courage to visit any health facility “when they feel something is wrong so that precautions can be taken immediately”.

The writer is a level 300 student of the Ghana Institute of Journalism