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Why WebMD is a Headache for Physicians

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In November, we explored how and why health concerns have become one of the most popular Internet topics today in our “Beware of Dr. Web” post. We’re revisiting the dreaded “Google Self-Diagnosis” concept, this time focusing on  one of the biggest health information hubs on the Web. 

With the progression of modern technology and the science behind modern medicine, a “powerful” new tool has been created… WebMD. Parents, grandparents and caregivers alike might praise this website for being such an insightful tool to avoid going to see the doctor. This could prove to be the worst choice to make when determining medical treatment for a condition that a person may have.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, a doctor must complete an undergraduate program, followed by a minimum of four years in medical school and then fulfill residency requirements ranging anywhere from three to seven years. [1] These healthcare professionals have the soundest advice to give to a patient and spend years in school to earn the right to practice medicine.

Although WebMD has an award winning content and editorial team made up of MDs that supply information to the public via the internet, who is to say that a viewer would diagnose symptoms correctly? Some of the symptoms could reveal an underlying problem that only a doctor would be able to accurately check and diagnose.

Dr. Peter Gottesfeld says that at least once a day he will check out a patient who believes the symptoms they are having are related to some horrifying disease, and WebMD told that patient so. He had “an anxious patient suffering from aching muscles, throbbing joints, headaches and fatigue [who rushed] into his office with a diagnosis in hand: Lyme disease.” Turns out that WebMD caused the patient more frustration, worry, and paranoia when that time could have been spent resting to help relieve the common cold. [2]

Dr. Gottesfeld, and other doctors feel that while WebMD “can be great for people seeking research on an illness a doctor has already diagnosed, the sites are not always the best place to go for people seeking information on the cause of their coughs, aches, bumps and rashes.” [2]

The problem is not the content that WebMD supplies. WebMD does not advise viewers to self-diagnose. In fact, the website informs viewers of the exact opposite. Within the websites “Terms and Conditions” page, the medical team advises that the content on the site should be used for informational purposes only. This section also warns viewers to seek medical advice from a professional, and to not delay treatment based on the information within the site. [3]

Essentially, viewers and internet users need to change perspective on the intended use of the website. Most viewers are using the information in a way that would prevent treatment, or in a way that would cause an unnecessary sense of fear. The only way to get rid of this headache for doctors is not Aspirin from the medicine cabinet, but rather closing the WebMD webpage.

[1]   The Road to Becoming a Doctor (n.d.) Retrieved July 20, 2014, from

[2]   Tennille, T. (n.d.). Doctors Say They Know Best: Lay Off the WebMD. . Retrieved July 22, 2014, from

[3]   Terms and Conditions. (2014, February 24). . Retrieved July 22, 2014, from