Metin Okucu, MD
Mustafa K. Calik, MD
Cardio Vascular Surgeon
American Medical Association
Symptom Guides for Patients
Aytuna Tosunoglu, PhD
Sevtap Arslan, BA,CA
Thirty years ago, a young medical student felt a lump just below his ear. On the way to his internship ward, he ran into an ENT (ears, nose and throat) professor and showed him the lump. The professor felt and prodded it, then told the student it was a parotid tumor that had to be removed. The student anxiously asked what the risks and consequences of surgery would be. The answer was devastating: he faced the possibility of dying or being left paralyzed on one side. The entire conversation had lasted just two minutes. But by the end, the student’s world had fallen apart. He went off in despair to read up on the condition, only to discover that a parotid tumor isn’t necessarily cancerous and can be removed at very low risk.
Twenty-five years later, the same medical student and a colleague (the co-founders of Caredir®) decided to address the dangerous availability of unreliable medical and treatment information on the internet, and to present a solution. After all, not everyone is a physician, nor does everyone have a spouse or relative who is a doctor; and in the circumstances, waiting to see a physician for answers, or not having the funds or health insurance to do so, merely delays diagnosis.
A report, Online Health 2013, from The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that of the 81 percent of US adults who use the internet, 72 percent have gone online to look for health information in the past year. Some 59 percent of that online health information seeker group went online to specifically try to figure out what medical condition they or someone they know had. Pew calls this group “online diagnosers” and it includes about 35 percent of all US adults. What is more, eight in 10 of these online diagnoses start with a search engine like Google.
These studies show that healthcare consumers are progressively relying on forums, video-sharing websites, and support groups for health and wellness information and advice, which could distract them from more reputable and credible sources. As a result, they could be counting less on physicians, which in turn raises the danger of obtaining deceptive, incorrect, and untrustworthy information from uncertified web sources. Equally, consumers can find themselves led to websites that are often overrun with advertising and commercial interests. (Kevin Pho, MD; Patients Google their symptoms, doctors need to deal with it )
The co-founders of Caredir® have worked extensively as physicians in deprived areas of Turkey, but are now based in the bustling metropolis of Istanbul. Divided by the narrow Bosphorus Strait, Istanbul is the only city in the world that straddles two continents (Europe and Asia). This location, at the meeting of seas and continents, was a further inspiration for us to connect and equip patients and people interested in healthy living with reliable sources and solutions online.
There are quite probably millions of websites out there concerned with health today - a bewildering number by any standard. With our 30 years of experience as physicians, we are acutely aware that any patient looking to research a health concern online is effectively diving into an ocean with no land in sight. A simple web browser search for a headache may end up causing anxieties about a brain tumor; a regular pimple might lead to worries of skin cancer, or a useless and complicated hormonal or antibiotic treatment rather than basic patient support. Navigating a safe course through the “ocean” is well-nigh impossible.
This is not to mention the unreliable, manipulative and sometimes plain incorrect information lurking out there. But even when patients do pick the “right” website, they are liable to be thrown off course, become confused or misled because of an overload of disruptive information and visual distractions cluttering the site. (Try checking out the diagnosis for a simple complaint yourself!)
Our many years of medical experience and direct patient contact have given us a clear idea of the kind of questions patients ask and how they ask them. This has directly informed the way Caredir® has been set up to ensure that within seconds patients and/or health-aware “well” people have straightforward, targeted answers to their questions from a database of licensed content.
Many countries around the world are concerned about the rising numbers of teenagers and young people not in education, training or employment. This section of the community is particularly vulnerable to the health myths and misinformation frequently found online. So, by providing proven, evidence-based content in Caredir®, we are showing that we also care deeply about future generations.
We believe that instant access to information about health concerns should be a right and freedom for all patients and people with health concerns. At the same time, we consider it our responsibility to provide them with information sources that are balanced, reliable and approved.
Experience in any context and at any level is valuable, but cumulative medical experience is particularly valuable in terms of its potential reach. So we were determined to put our 30 years’ experience of patients and cases to good use and to share the benefits firsthand with consumers in search of health resources. Then in 2012, we came across a study indicating that nine out of 10 health-related entries on Wikipedia are inaccurate (Wikipedia vs Peer-Reviewed Medical Literature for Information About the 10 Most Costly Medical Conditions). And perhaps more alarming still was evidence that medical-related content on Wikipedia was viewed 5 billion times in 2013 alone (Wikipedia's medical errors and one doctor's fight to correct them ).
During the same time frame, we started encountering cases of “cyberchondriac” patients in our own practices. A “cyberchondriac” is defined as someone who “compulsively searches the internet for information about real or imagined symptoms of illness” (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/cyberchondriac ).
Doubtless many of us have at one time or another spent hours searching the internet for our symptoms and imagining the worst possible scenarios. Microsoft Research found that “nearly nine out of ten respondents reported at least one instance where a Web search for the symptoms of basic medical conditions led to their review of content on more serious illnesses.” (Cyberchondria: Studies of the Escalation of Medical Concerns in Web Search ; Seeking Consumer Health Information on the Internet)
Ultimately, it was the combination of research and professional experience that convinced us to develop a website that would guide patients, their family and friends to reliable and appropriate resources. And a big part of this for us meant shielding web searchers, especially the younger among them, from misplaced and unnecessary anxieties.