By Dr. Dave Hnida

(CBS4) -Sour stomach? Scratchy throat? Sore “spleen”?

You might be tempted to page “Dr. Google” for a bit more info on what’s ailing you. If you do, you’re certainly not alone in the online waiting room. It’s estimated 2 out of 3 of us turn to the good doctor for advice.

(credit: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

But how good an idea is it to pay a visit to the world of cyber-medicine?

Research from a number of studies say the prognosis for a good experience can be very good … or send you down the road of misery.

Good info can ease your fears, and make you a better informed patient. Or it could transform you from hypochondriac to cyber-chondriac. Much of it depends on your approach.

Here are some thoughts.

For simple complaints or conditions, it’s estimated that about 70% of information is pretty accurate.

For rare, or more complicated problems, Dr. Google can be a quack, with that accuracy needle dropping to about 30 percent.

For example, one study found that when researching the condition “endometriosis,” 44 of the top 45 hits contained inaccurate information. Nasty.

Other things to keep in mind besides accuracy and reliability;

Stay away from sites that want to sell you something.

Stay away from sites that want personal information.

Stay away from the temptation to look up something like “chest pain” or “shortness of breath.” If you have these symptoms, you need a doctor, not a computer.

Then, keep in mind that almost every site is going to collect information about whatever condition or symptom you type in. You know how it works, you query the word “cough”, and the next thing you know you’re seeing ads for cold and cough products popping up every time you log in over the next few weeks.

And finally, stay clear of most “chat rooms.” These have a really bad rep for bad information. Sure, it’s nice to know someone is sharing about their experience with a certain disease that you might have, or are afraid you might have. But you’ve always got to remember chat room comrades are not medically trained… and do you really want to share your medical issues with someone on the other end of an anonymous keyboard? You might as well stop a stranger on the street and ask them for medical advice.

All in all, don’t be afraid to look things up. It may save you a trip to the doctor. Or if you wind up going to see the doctor, you’ll be a better informed patient.

(And please don’t be afraid to tell us about something you saw online, and are worried about).

Just keep it simple, and keep it sensible when you page Dr. Google for advice.

Here are a few of the sites I recommend to my patients when they are looking for more information:

There are many, many more great sites. Ask your doctor for the ones they recommend. Your health insurer may also have recommendations, as well as a “nurse line” for advice.

Dr. Dave Hnida is CBS4’s Medical Editor. He blogs about the latest studies and trends in the health world. Read his latest blog entries, check out his bio or follow him on Twitter @drdavehnida



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