The internet has had an undeniable impact on our lives. It has enabled us to answer difficult questions, solve otherwise impenetrable problems, and at a greater level, to save lives. However, as information technology has advanced and progressed, so too has our reliance on them. Where once we may have been content to seek out information in a book, or through a friend, many of us now approach the internet directly when searching for information and answers to questions.
The internet has filled gaps we never thought possible, and can be credited to unfathomable accomplishments. However, with more people than ever relying on the internet as a primary source of information, we are left to wonder whether this is truly the best solution to our problems.
Damans How Healthy id the UAE? survey revealed that 70 per cent of UAE residents use the internet for information about their personal health, while only 40 percent of respondents refer immediately to their doctors. While the amount of reliable and informative health related websites has multiplied in recent times, we must ask ourselves whether the information we find online can act as a substitute for the expertise and knowledge provided by doctors. I think the clear and obvious answer here is no.
With Breast Cancer Awareness month just past us, we found ourselves surrounded by even more reminders of the importance of face to face medical support and guidance. Breast cancer is an insidious, pervasive disease, and remains the most common cancer in women worldwide, with approximately 50-60 cases reported annually per 100,000 people in the UAE. It has reached a prevalence in our communities which leaves us to question not if we know anyone suffering from the disease, but rather how many we know.
Tragically, recent World Health Organisation statistics show that one third of breast cancer related deaths can be decreased with early detection and treatment. This is equivalent to roughly 400,000 saved lives worldwide.
Education and screening have been identified as the top two recommended tools for early detection resulting in reduced breast cancer mortality rates. While the internet remains an excellent starting point for breast cancer awareness, I would suggest the shortcomings remain in the follow up.
Mammograms- short and non-invasive breast cancer screening exams- are credited with detecting 9 out of ten concerns present in the breast, and are recommended for all women over the age of 35. What we have observed is that, although women are increasingly aware of the importance of mammograms, too few women are proactively scheduling them. Yes, the internet builds knowledge and provides a foundation for awareness, but at the end of the day it wont conduct a mammogram.
This is not to say that we seldom find the internet more useful. It is important to verify the source. For example, can the information be attributed to an accredited doctor? Is it on a credible website? Another excellent source of information would be international bodies and recognized research centres. These websites have doctors and specialists able to offer better quality information as they are far experience. An example would be myamd.ae here in the UAE and Cancer Research in the UK.
Today, more than ever, the internet is informing our decisions; some might say it makes decisions for us. What we must ask ourselves is whether we are relying on it to make decisions that require real, human contact. Have we found the balance between instant access to information and reliable personal advice, or have we allowed one to overtake the other? I dont have the answer to this question, but I can say with certainty that at the end of the day, it is always best to have a balanced answer on your questions from a credible doctor and a credible internet website. That way you will have be able to have a more informed decision for your case
Dr. Alfons Grabosch
Manager - Health Support Department