Dealing with self-diagnosing patients


For immediate release: Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Doctors should not dismiss or feel threatened by patients who self-diagnose on the internet before attending appointments, says UK-wide medical defence organisation MDDUS.

A recent survey by the Astellas Innovation Debate revealed that three-quarters of GPs had noticed a marked increase in the number of patients ‘self-diagnosing’ from the internet over the last year, while 21 per cent had seen an increase in patients presenting at the surgery with data generated from health apps and smart devices.

It may be tempting to label them cyberchondriacs or the worried well, but the reality is that some patients who are anxious about their health use the internet to diagnose themselves with everything from brain tumours to an exotic disease such as dengue fever.

“Such is the growing role of the internet in society today, it is perhaps inevitable that some patients will attempt to self-diagnose using information obtained online,” says MDDUS medical adviser Dr Greg Dollman.

“It can be a fine balancing act for doctors when faced with patients who, prior to their scheduled appointment, have already sought a ‘second opinion’ via their health app or a google search.”

It is possible that doctors may feel concerned over losing control of the consultation and time that should be used to examine the patient may instead be spent looking through their findings.

“Some doctors may feel anxious, intimidated or even threatened by web-wise patients arriving at their practice armed with a dossier of medical information,” says Dr Dollman. “It can be disconcerting to have a patient showing you information from their health app or turning up with print out of their symptoms, complete with their own diagnosis.

“While internet information can be inaccurate or misleading, patients should be encouraged to take an interest in and be responsible for their own health and, by working together with the doctor, they can gain a better understanding of any condition or symptoms they have.

“Doctors should listen to what every patient has to say and this includes carefully considering information presented to them by the patient. Working in partnership with the patient involves sharing decision making where possible and respecting their views.

"It is unlikely that doctors will have every diagnosis at their fingertips and they should welcome a patient's considered and subjective review of their own symptoms and circumstances as both an occasion to build on the doctor-patient partnership as well as a helpful opportunity for continuing their own professional development.

“As with all medical consultations, a doctor should acknowledge the information provided by a colleague or patient, using this as a starting point for their own attentive and personalised review."

MDDUS has encountered many cases where patients have requested specialist medicines from their doctors as a result of their own internet research. “Doctors are reminded of their professional duty to work within the field of their own knowledge and expertise,” adds Dr Dollman.

“Furthermore, doctors are entitled not to provide treatment requested by a patient that they do not believe is in their best interests.”


For further information contact Richard Hendry on 0845 270 2034 or 07976 272266, or email

Note to editors

MDDUS (The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland) is a medical and dental defence organisation providing access to professional indemnity and expert medico- and dento-legal advice for doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals throughout the UK.

For further information on MDDUS go to

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