Observations Medicine and the Media

Online health checks may obscure effective advice

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e6745 (Published 15 October 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6745
  1. Margaret McCartney, general practitioner, Glasgow
  1. margaret{at}margaretmccartney.com

Online tests purporting to help people assess themselves for everything from dehydration to cancer are proliferating, but are they a distraction from what we know works in health education, and do we have evidence that they are useful, asks Margaret McCartney

The internet is brimming with health advice—and now online health “checks.” NHS Choices (www.nhs.uk) offers much straightforward information but also “health check tools,” such as a depression self assessment that offers people the opportunity to “take this short test to find out if you’re suffering from depression.”1 This test is the PHQ-9 patient health questionnaire, which, we are warned in the preamble, is “not intended to replace a consultation with a GP.” NHS Choices also provides a wellbeing self assessment, which uses the WEMWBS (Warwick-Edinburgh mental wellbeing scale), and home hygiene, mole, and asthma self assessments.

Having done NHS Choices’ asthma check (“use this self-assessment to find out if you might have asthma”) and offering symptoms of exertional chest pain and breathlessness, I found that I was “unlikely” to have asthma but that I should seek advice if symptoms changed or got worse. Is this helpful? The kidney disease check will, if your urine has ever tested positive for blood or protein, recommend that you see your …

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