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Have you fallen down the self-diagnosis rabbit hole?

New research shows that as an expat, you are likely to consult the internet with your health symptoms. But the risks involved can be significant. Here’s why you need to stop typing and step away from your computer.

Have you fallen down the self-diagnosis rabbit hole?
Searching for flights online takes time and patience, but it's well worth it. (Photo: Getty Images)

We’ve all done it. That strangely swollen toe, tingle in the throat or persistent headache. Simply type your symptoms into the online search bar and watch as the diagnoses appear. With the click of a button, innocent symptoms evolve into life-threatening illnesses, or maybe your scary medical dilemmas dissolve away, reassured by the information on your screen. 

In partnership with AXA – Global Healthcare, The Local looks at the risk and rise of the online self-diagnosis.

When your own research goes wrong

A quick look at Reddit uncovers hundreds of tales from medical professionals sharing the mishaps, and the occasional success, of online self-diagnosis. 

One father made a scene at a hospital demanding his daughter have an MRI, only to discover the ‘rash’ she had was a very non-life-threatening ink transfer, probably from her clothing. There was also a woman who searched her health symptoms online and discovered she was in labour (actually!), a man who had convinced himself he had gestational diabetes – a condition exclusive to pregnant women. And then there are the many tales of panicked people visiting their doctor, scared and anxious that they have cancer after doing some online research.

But for all the funny stories and relatable anecdotes, there are of course problems and real risks with diagnosing yourself from information online. 

Avoid a self-diagnosis mishap and consult a real doctor instead – AXA’s online doctor service have doctors on call and is available 24/7

Help me, internet 

While the act of online self-diagnosis is not new, the role of online health information and the importance of virtual healthcare grew during the Covid-19 pandemic. People were encouraged to check their Covid symptoms at home, accessing all the information they needed via health authorities online. 

At the same time, the uncertainty around the virus and instructions to stay at home meant many people were unable to access health care, or avoided seeking it in-person. Why take a risk when you can open your laptop and search? 

The problem with this is threefold. You will either self-treat your self-diagnosis (which can be dangerous and do more harm than good). Or, think you are okay, when in fact, you need medical help. Option three involves overreacting to a condition that is not as bad as you thought, causing worry and stress. This can even lead to ‘cyberchondria’, which is when the internet searching of medical information and its associated worries about health becomes excessive. 

Reliable online help is out there. AXA’s global health plans will allow expats to speak to doctors in a range of languages via their Virtual Doctor Service

Virtual healthcare services are convenient but don’t have the risks of online symptom searching.

Mind health matters for expats

For those of us living abroad, the online self-diagnosis phenomenon is even more common. Jumping online is easier than navigating a foreign medical system, right? 

AXA – Global Healthcare recently conducted its biggest ever piece of research on mind health issues, in the wake of Covid-19. The findings can be read in their Mind Health Index

One of the most shocking findings of the research was that almost a third (28 percent) of mental health conditions among people living internationally had been self-diagnosed. 

The study surveyed 11,000 people from 11 countries and territories in Europe and Asia, with 13.5 percent of those participating being individuals who live abroad. The research acknowledged the unique set of mental health challenges faced by expats, who are away from support networks and the comforts of home. 

Depression and anxiety were the most common issues self-diagnosed by internet research among the non-natives surveyed. Worryingly, only 26 percent of internationals who self-diagnosed said their condition was being managed ‘well’ or ‘very well’. This is compared to 49 percent of those with a properly diagnosed condition. Quite clearly this shows the importance of talking to a medical professional about your mental health. 

AXA provides mental health and wellbeing healthcare as part of its global health plans

Overcome the barriers to seeking proper care

Navigating a foreign medical system can be daunting and off-putting, especially when you’re not feeling your best. Not knowing who to call or where to go is only going to exacerbate certain conditions, like anxiety, especially if you don’t yet speak the local language. 

So not understanding the medical landscape of where you live is an obvious reason to turn to online self diagnosing instead. Only around half (53 percent) of expats in AXA – Global Healthcare’s Mind Health Index said they knew how to access mental health help if they needed it. 

“It’s worrying that so many non-natives are using the internet to self-diagnose, but perhaps not surprising,” said Rebecca Freer, Head of Marketing at AXA – Global Healthcare. “Knowing how a local healthcare system works can be challenging, let alone knowing the sources of support you can trust. In contrast to these potential barriers to seeking help, the internet can seem to offer fast and credible sources of advice.”

While accessing healthcare can be one of the challenges of living overseas, overall the experience of life abroad should, and can, be a positive one. Though it’s increasingly common to research your symptoms online, don’t let the risks of a misdiagnosis or an unnecessary spiral of worry and fear impact you. Think again before consulting the internet with your health symptoms.

Get a quote for an insurance plan that suits you from AXA – Global Healthcare and access quality healthcare from their trusted networks

Virtual Doctor service provided by Teladoc Health
Mind Health service provided by Teladoc Health
AXA Global Healthcare (EU) Limited. Registered in Ireland number 630468. Registered Office: Wolfe Tone House, Wolfe Tone Street, Dublin 1. AXA Global Healthcare (EU) Limited is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.
AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Limited. Registered in England (No. 03039521). Registered Office: 20 Gracechurch Street, London, EC3V 0BG, United Kingdom. AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Limited is authorised and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority.

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HEALTH

How to get an influenza vaccine in Denmark

Target groups for an influenza vaccine for the 2022 season, including children, can obtain free vaccination across Denmark.

How to get an influenza vaccine in Denmark

Starting next week, vaccination centres will be available to give influenza vaccines to children between the ages of two and six.

The offer is expected to make vaccinations easier on parents, since ‘flu shots were previously only available through a limited number of general practitioners — meaning parents often had to call several doctors before making an appointment. 

To date, less than ten percent of eligible kids have been vaccinated for the flu since it became available October 1st, far below the Danish Health Authority target of 75 percent, according to broadcaster DR

Children between the ages of two and six years have been eligible for a vaccination against influenza since October 1st.

The Danish Health Authority says it is offering the vaccination to children because they can easily pass the infection on when they have influenza. As such, vaccinating them can prevent spread to vulnerable people including the elderly.

Because 2020 and 2021 saw low influenza spread due to Covid-19 restrictions, lower natural immunity has built up in the community. The Danish Health Authority is therefore “concerned we will experience a tough influenza season in which we will see many people infected with influenza,” it said in a letter sent to parents of children eligible for vaccination.

“That’s why it is important that we prevent as much illness as we can,” it said.

How are children vaccinated?

The influenza vaccine given to children aged 2-6 is in the form of a nasal spray (not an injection).

It is given in two separate doses four weeks apart, unless the child was vaccinated last year, in which case only one dose is needed.

Children can access the vaccination at their GP’s clinic (they must be accompanied by a parent or guardian). Some clinics offer walk-in vaccination, while appointments must be made at others. Contact your GP for more information.

From October 14th, children can also get the ‘flu vaccine at vaccination centres (the centres where adults are also vaccinated against influenza and Covid-19). An appointment should not be necessary, but check the information provided by the individual centre.

You can find the vaccination centre closest to you via this map on the Danish Health Authority website (click the green “Vaccinationscentre” filter and the light blue “Influenzavaccination af børn (2-6 år)” filters). 

You can also call a dedicated helpline in your local health authority Region to receive information about options near you. The relevant phone numbers are listed here.

The Health Authority has also issued a letter in English on influenza vaccination for children. The letter is a replication of the circular sent to parents. It can be found here.

How do adults get the influenza vaccine?

The free influenza vaccine is offered to adults in a number of specified groups. These are, broadly, people over 65 years old, pregnant women in their second or third trimester, and people with certain chronic illnesses and other health indications.

Health sector staff and household close contacts to children in high-risk groups can also be given the free vaccine.

An exhaustive list of the chronic illnesses and general health conditions for which the influenza vaccine is recommended can be found on the Danish Health Authority website.

Vaccination can be given at GP clinics, vaccination centres (where Covid-19 vaccines are also given) and some pharmacies. The options available vary locally.

You can use this map (the same map mentioned in the section for children above) to search locally for vaccination options close to you. The map can be filtered to show only vaccination centre, GP clinics, pharmacies or private clinics, and you should click the “Influenzavaccine” button to specify for the ‘flu jab.

If you have been offered an influenza vaccine based on your age, you can book an appointment at a vaccination centre via the vacciner.dk website. You’ll need your MitID or NemID digital ID. If you need help with this, you can call a Regional helpline. The relevant phone numbers are listed here.

If you have been offered the vaccine due to health or work reasons, you can follow a similar procedure. You will be asked to sign a declaration before booking an appointment.

If you are unsure about being vaccinated or whether you fall into the target group, the Health Authority recommends discussing the options with your doctor.

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