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Dr. Khadeejah F. Sanni-Tijani

A few years back, smart devices were extremely expensive and only the rich had access to the internet. The average person had to resort to cyber cafés for limited browsing and checking/sending of important emails. Thankfully, there was a drastic decline in the cost of internet services and smartphones became more affordable. Many people now have access to either free or low-cost data or Wi-Fi. 

Similarly, virtually everyone now has access to social media platforms where they can share information, ideas and views. Of course, health professionals also make use of these platforms, not only to socialize, but also to share their knowledge and experience through pro bono or paid online services. Medical services have been taken to a whole new level, via paperless health information systems, telemedicine and other advanced technologies - thanks to the internet. 

Today, there is an overwhelming amount of information on the internet. That disease you want to research about is just a 'Google search' away. Medical websites and apps are making huge impacts in people's lives by dishing out thousands of articles to educate and enlighten, as well as chatting services for quick consultations. We also have a wide range of beneficial online forums and support groups on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc.

However, everything good has its downsides. People need to understand that Dr. Google does not know it all and Nurse Facebook can never be a replacement for real life medical care. Medicine is evolving day after day, researches are going on, new findings are discovered and knowledge is being updated all the time. You might find contrasting ideas on a particular topic and the only way to decipher what you read is to consult a doctor who would advise you accordingly.

Medicine is not just a theoretical science. It is also an art. For example, if you have a rash and you consult Dr. Google, you would find a hundred differential diagnosis and the modes of treatment. The best you can do on your own is to make a guess and choose one of the suggested treatments. But what if you're wrong? A real doctor will LOOK more closely, TOUCH and FEEL you, ASK you specific questions, REQUEST some INVESTIGATIONS likes laboratory tests, make a DEFINITIVE diagnosis and then, prescribe the medication that will work best for you.

Similarly, Nurse Facebook might give you a wide range of confusing information. Members of your forum will share only their personal experiences and what worked for them. Whatever the admin says is not sacrosanct. Your best bet is to seek an expert opinion from your health care provider. 

People also need to know the limitations of online consultations. As mentioned above, medicine is an art. You can't compare the judgment of an online doctor to that in the clinical setting. Same goes for telephone conversations. If the online doctor gave you a provisional diagnosis and advised you to visit the hospital for better evaluation, please trust him/her for your own good. Conversely, if the doctor concludes the consultation online but you still feel the need to be seen face-to-face, trust your guts and hit the road before things get worse. 

In conclusion, the internet has helped a lot of people to get information regarding their health as well as consult professionals and bypassing the long queues at the hospital. This doesn't mean that the internet will replace the hospitals anytime soon. You need to sieve any medical information you get online and visit a doctor, sooner than later, for a better personalized care.

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