Do You Suffer Cyberchondria?

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Jill Chadwick

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“Cyberchondria” is a word coined by researchers who studied the online search habits of people seeking medical information and their subsequent reactions when they find it. 

“There is no doubt that true anxiety can happen when patients input their symptoms online and a computer program makes a diagnosis,” Christian Sinclair, MD at The University of Kansas Health System says. “Sometimes that anxiety can create a health problem or make a true medical problem worse. Online research has the power to change the way you think about your health.”  Dr. Sinclair appreciates when patients have researched symptoms and bring their findings to him so he can add his medical training to the mix. 

A 2013 Pew survey combined with a more recent Microsoft study cited by STAT seems to back the doctor’s advice. In a study of 45 standardize patient cases and three symptom checker programs, the computer only got the diagnosis right about 37% of the time. And, when looking at the top twenty possible diagnoses, the computer was right about half the time. Dr. Sinclair points out that just because the information is there, it might not be true for you.

“One thing Google or any search engine can’t do is apply your symptoms to your own personal health and judge your own risk,” Dr. Sinclair adds. “Only your health care provider who knows your personal health history can do that.”  Dr. Sinclair is very active online as a healthcare blogger and has more than ten-thousand twitter followers.  He offers five tips when searching for and using online health information. 1) Be curious and cautious. 2) Seek out reputable health sites.  3) Consider carefully the sponsors of each site. Is their information linked to a product they want you buy? 4) Share your online research with your health care team. 5) Be open to your healthcare team’s experience, knowledge and training before deciding a course of treatment.

In the video, Dr. Sinclair explains where the term cyberchondria, the research that coined the word and how online diagnosis can affect a person’s health.