Take one tablet - when you should head online for medical advice?

With a growing number of medical apps and websites, more and more patients are consulting the internet before they consult their general practitioner. Here are some tips on when it's a good idea to get some professional medical advice. 

How confident are you in describing your symptoms?

In many cases, it can be hard for patients to adequately assess whether their own symptoms should be called mild, moderate or severe. Equally, it can be hard for nonmedical professionals to describe a cough or cold or many other physical symptoms. Often, the difference between these descriptions can lead to a significantly different diagnosis, which can be inaccurate. 

Do you have ongoing health concerns?

If you have a preexisting condition such as diabetes or asthma, it can be very useful to have a regular doctor to provide you with continuity of care. This person can advise on how any medication may interact with your underlying condition and keep an eye on any trends in your symptoms. Often, your underlying issue may leave you vulnerable to other conditions, such as the way that diabetics often have issues with poor circulation and as such are more vulnerable to issues with hands and feet. 

Equally, if your current issue is ongoing and was not properly treated last time, there may need to be some further exploration of what might be causing the issues, such as a recurring chest infection or wounds that are not healing due to suppressed immune function. 

Do you need a physical examination?

While some symptoms can be observed physically by the patient, some require a physical exam by a doctor, such as listening to the chest through a stethoscope, feeling a swollen area or examining the ear canals for signs of swelling and fluid. Often, relatively minor issues such as ear infection can be quickly treated ear drops prescribed by a doctor, but can result in more serious symptoms, such as a burst ear drum or permanent hearing loss, if left untreated. 

Will you need a prescription?

Even if the app or website can adequately describe what is wrong with you, you may still need to see a doctor for medication. This can make it less useful to get a diagnosis via the app if you will still need to see a doctor anyway. 

If you are worried that you are ill, the best thing to do is to see a doctor and get a proper diagnosis. They can give you a full physical examination and prescribe you treatment to help you get better.