Web doctors or spin doctors?

It's that time of year. There ain't no cure for the sumUmertime flu and you are hanging in for a break at Easter. But for now you just can't miss your commitments. So what do you do - gulp a few vitamins, bulk up on Vitamin C and soldier on? Another solution could be just a click away.

In these days of e-services, it is no surprise to discover that e-doctors, as well as e-medical and health services are more commonplace on the Web. The Net has always been a great source of encyclopedic information and it can certainly provide a lot of health-related information that in times past would have been provided by your doctor or a medical dictionary.

The sites we reviewed in this month's Web and You got the PC World staff rethinking their attitudes to health, diet, stress management and lifestyle in general. I know I certainly did. The Real Age test provided a true test of how healthy we think we are versus reality. However, when submitting the answers for the test, and discussing the answers of other staff members, I realised how easy it is to tell a white lie, and fudge the truth here and there - all for a better real age. For example an answer to the question of how much exercise you do, could be answered in terms of how much exercise you want to do. Or perhaps this curly one, how much alcohol you consume in a week, was a great question for binge drinkers, who could divide the booze consumed on the weekend, across a whole week of sobriety. Nothing like a true test!

So what stops you from exaggerating symptoms to an e-doctor, beside a desire to get well? Can they really diagnose you if you participate in an online chat, or e-mail your symptoms? I remember as a young tyke pulling a few fake symptoms on the local GP in order to get a day off school. Even after a thorough examination and saying "Ahhhh", we were off to the chemist and I was off school for a day. I may be a bit cynical, but isn't this easy e-mail check up just a short cut for people seeking a fast doctor's certificate to keep their boss happy? Or can they really offer a time-saving alternative to the battle to see the local GP on the way to work, or in your lunch break.

Of course this depends on the nature of the illness. Certainly patients who have been treated in person - or require repeat prescriptions - could certainly find e-mailing, or visiting an e-doctor a convenience, in the way e-banking has become a way of life for many of us. No more pesky queues and waiting, plus the ability to fit the consultation hours to suit you.

But what about online access to your medical records? If you have just come to terms with accessing your bank records online, the thought of accessing your complete medical history may make you a little squeamish. Of course you may then have a complete, up-to-date medical history - a luxury many of us do not currently have. Unless you have seen the same medical practitioner your whole life, chances are your medical records are strewn around the city, state or country, at least. With complete, comprehensive records you may start to get a realistic pattern of any ongoing health problems. Certainly access to your records when travelling in a foreign country is a benefit, should you fall ill. On the flipside, if this sensitive information passed onto your employer, then perhaps you would choose not to consolidate your medical history.

No doubt, the e-health services industry will grow if it continues to empower individuals about their state of health, and provide up-to-date medical information. Who knows? Maybe it will also contribute to a surge of hypochondria, not to mention a possible plague of sickies.

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Amanda Conroy

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