How often do you exhibit IDIOT syndrome? Know more to keep yourself safe

Internet Derived Information Obstructing Treatment (IDIOT) syndrome refers to a situation where individuals excessively rely on online health information.

BySumit Jha

Published May 28, 2024 | 7:00 AM Updated May 28, 2024 | 8:13 AM

How often do you exhibit IDIOT syndrome? Know more to keep yourself safe

Dr Ankit Gupta watched the man gingerly stepping into his consultation room in Hyderabad. A smartphone in his hand seemed to be guiding him in.

The doctor had seen several people like the man. Dr Gupta already knew what to expect by the time he pulled a chair and introduced himself as Ravi*.

“I have cough and chest pain for the past few days,” Ravi furtively glanced at the phone. “I Googled the symptoms, and I feel it could be something serious, like tuberculosis or even lung cancer.”

The doctor smiled to assure Ravi all was right with him. Dr Gupta engaged Ravi in a conversation by adopting a calm and methodical approach.

Ravi opened up about the symptoms, his medical history and symptoms. The doctor deftly brought him back on track whenever the talk veered into the Google diagnosis.

The man seemed tense and anxious as Dr Gupta examined him. He looked in disbelief as the doctor debunked his diagnosis of the “grave” disease.

Ravi started to relax as Dr Gupta explained the potential causes of the persistent cough and chest pain. It may be due to respiratory infections, allergies, and environmental factors like air pollution, the doctor told him.

Dr Gupta reassured Ravi that while his symptoms warranted attention, they were unlikely symptoms of a serious illness, which would require further examination. He emphasised the importance of accurate diagnosis through medical evaluation and cautioned against undue alarm based solely on internet research.

Back in his mind, Dr Gupta knew Ravi was exhibiting telltale signs of the IDIOT syndrome – a consequence of increasing accessibility of medical information online.

Also Read: How AI can transform diagnosis and intervention in healthcare

The IDIOT syndrome

The Internet Derived Information Obstructing Treatment (IDIOT) syndrome refers to a situation where individuals excessively rely on online health information, leading to incorrect self-diagnosis, detrimental self-treatment, and a lack of trust in healthcare professionals.

“Individuals self-diagnose or research medical conditions online and then obstruct their medical treatment based on the information they get on the internet. This behaviour can sometimes exacerbate medical issues or lead to unnecessary anxiety,” Dr Gupta told South First.

He added that a person with diabetes may find information online about alternative treatments like herbal supplements. Based on this information, they may stop taking prescribed insulin or other medications, leading to dangerously high blood sugar levels.

Or, a person with chronic pain may find information about opioid painkillers online. “They may then pressure their doctor for a prescription, even if the doctor believes non-opioid treatments are more appropriate,” Dr Gupta added.

Also Read: The forgotten art of patient history-taking

The new playground

Dr Gupta said earlier it was just the Google, but now AI chatbots have become more dangerous, as they provide specific information a person seeks.

With the rise of AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants, the risk of IDIOT syndrome may further increase as these technologies can provide instant, personalised health advice based on user inputs.

“People may turn to AI chatbots for quick symptom assessment and diagnosis, without consulting qualified medical professionals. These chatbots, while helpful, may provide generic or even incorrect information leading to self-medication or treatment abandonment,” Dr Gupta explained.

He added that AI algorithms can generate convincing health content that appears authoritative but may lack scientific backing. People may blindly trust this content and make decisions about their treatment.

“The biggest danger is that excessive reliance on online health information from AI and other sources can make people question the advice of doctors, leading them to discontinue prescribed treatments prematurely,” Dr Gupta said.

Searching for health information online, especially with AI assistance, can become compulsive. People may experience distress and jump to worst-case conclusions about their health.

Also Read: Heard about Bihar boy who fainted in class of girls?

Getting over it

To overcome the IDIOT syndrome, individuals can implement several strategies to make informed healthcare decisions. Dr Gupta suggested following options:

Verify Sources: Prioritise information from reputable sources such as medical institutions, healthcare professionals, and trusted websites. Verify the credibility of the information before making any decisions.

Consult Healthcare Professionals: Always consult a qualified healthcare provider before making any significant health-related decision. Healthcare professionals can provide accurate diagnoses, treatment plans, and guidance tailored to individual needs.

Avoid Self-Diagnosis: Refrain from self-diagnosing based solely on internet information. Symptoms found online may not always be accurate or applicable to individual cases, leading to incorrect self-diagnoses and potentially harmful self-treatment.

Limit Online Searches: Avoid excessive and unnecessary online searches for medical information. Spending excessive time searching for symptoms can lead to anxiety, distress, and jumping to incorrect conclusions about one’s health condition.

Seek Professional Guidance: Trust the expertise of healthcare professionals. Doctors and medical professionals are trained to provide accurate diagnoses, treatment plans, and medical advice tailored to individual health needs.

Also Read: Novel approach identifies people at risk of developing TB

Legitimate medical concerns and IDIOT syndrome

Dr Gupta said differentiating between legitimate medical concerns and IDIOT syndrome can be challenging, as both involve individuals seeking health information online. However, there are key differences in the approach and outcomes:

Legitimate concerns

Informed Research: Individuals conduct targeted research on reputable websites, seeking to understand their symptoms and treatment options. They consult healthcare professionals to validate their findings and make informed decisions. “Such as Mayo Clinic or Healthline, these are trusted websites, but seek help to understand with the doctors. Avoid chatbots,” Dr Gupta said.

Collaboration with professionals: Patients work closely with doctors, sharing their online research and seeking guidance on how to apply the information to their specific situation. This collaboration ensures that online information is used to supplement, not replace, professional medical advice.

Open Communication: Individuals openly discuss their online findings with healthcare professionals, who help them distinguish between credible and misleading information. This open communication fosters trust and ensures that treatment decisions are based on accurate information.

IDIOT symptoms

Blind Trust in Online Information: Individuals place complete trust on online health information, often without verifying its credibility. They may discontinue treatment or self-medicate based on this information, without consulting healthcare professionals.

Lack of Professional Guidance: Patients rely solely on internet information, bypassing the guidance of healthcare professionals. This can lead to misdiagnosis, incorrect treatment, and worsening of health conditions.

Anxiety and Fear: IDIOT syndrome is often characterised by excessive anxiety and fear, as individuals may misinterpret online information or jump to worst-case conclusions about their health.

(*Name changed to protect the patient’s identity. Edited by Majnu Babu).