A recent study focused on the social media website Reddit, and more specifically, a crowd-sourcing sexually transmitted disease (STD) diagnosis forum on the site. The forum is quite active, with over 16,000 posts over an 8-year period, and posts get a response in an average of 3 hours.
Why it’s a bad idea to crowdsource an STD Diagnosis
Crowdsourcing medical advice is nothing new. It can be argued that most home-cures are crowdsourced, as there is no official medical basis for the idea that vitamin C will help you recover from a cold faster or eating sugar helps to heal a burnt tongue.
STDs are a different story. Due to their contagious and often taboo nature, it can be easy to spread devastating STDs without telling anyone, and sometimes without knowing yourself. A proper medical diagnosis will provide the best options for treatment and containment.
Despite the study looking at 500 random posts on the forum, the researchers were unable to provide statistics on whether or not the advice provided was sound. The reason they were unable to do this was that the researchers themselves were unable to properly diagnose the posters without sufficient knowledge of the patient or their situation. And that’s the entire point. Of the 500 posts reviewed, 20% were seeking a second opinion after being diagnosed by a healthcare professional. It is always recommended to trust the advice of healthcare professionals over strangers on the internet. Many factors go into making a diagnosis, and even attached photos won’t answer all of the questions a doctor might have.
Doctors can be held accountable for mistakes
One of the reasons doctors stay in school for years after receiving their bachelor’s of medicine or science is so that they are properly qualified to answer questions. When they make a mistake, they can be held accountable. Unfortunately, Reddit users giving their opinions cannot be found liable for medical malpractice, making their diagnosis much lower stakes for them.
Of course, there are some times when doctors do make mistakes while diagnosing or otherwise. Sometimes doctors will fail to properly treat their patients, which can lead to an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situation for those with STDs.
In an example post, one person said that their doctor told them not to worry about his girlfriend’s high risk of human papillomavirus (HPV) since “guys have nothing to worry about and everyone has it.” This is not good advice since the Center for Disease Control has found that at least six different types of cancer can be caused by HPV in both men and women. This is an example of when a second opinion is recommended but should be sought from another medical professional.
If the stranger on the internet gives advice that leads to improper treatment, the fault is on the patient for following bad advice.
This could be leading to increased rates of STDs
Improperly treated STDs can be easily spread, and the convenience and anonymity of asking a forum on the internet can make seeking unqualified advice more enticing than visiting a doctor. This is why doctors are worried about the rapid growth of these forums, as they may be leading to increased rates of STDs.