Using the Internet for Health Information

Did you ever lost yourself browsing through the Internet searching for your illness symptoms? I bet we have all done it: You are not feeling well and instead of visiting your doctor you turn to your computer and rely on the magical powers of Google. But watch out before you know it you are cyberchondriac.


With the increasing availability of online medial information sources more and more people are using the Internet to find health related information. The actual amount of Internet users searching for health information online varies across studies between 60 and 80%. But all studies agree that online health information has become one of the most important information sources.

Often people use the Internet to diagnose themselves resulting in the most terrible diseases. Microsoft studied the probability that the word brain tumor would come up in response to the search term headache. There were just as many results linking headaches with brain tumors as with caffeine withdrawal (0.26). While the change of having a brain tumor is much more rare.

Using the Internet for self-diagnosing can in some cases even result in cyberchondria. But what is cyberchondria? The term or phenomenon cyberchondria derives from the terms cyber and hypochondria. It is an “unfounded anxiety concerning the state of one’s health brought on by visiting health and medical websites”. Some people even stated that the Internet is making us (feel) sick. And like all other markets there are people who benefit from cyberchondria and making money out of it. Because when we think we are ill we tend to buy wrong medicines online or adopt expensive and pointless home therapy.

On the other hand it is maybe just a matter of time before the Internet would offer more reliable information. Mr. Horvitz is a computer scientist with a medical degree and is working as a researcher at Microsoft. He stated that it would be possible to create search engines that are able to detect medical queries and offer advise that not automatically make you fear the worst.

In my opinion the Internet is great for gathering information but please leave the real work to the doctors. But what do you think? Can we trust the Internet for health information? And to what extent will the Internet replace doctors in the future?


Xiao, N., Sharman R., Rao H.R., Upadhyaya, S. (2012) Factors influencing online health information search: An empirical analysis of a national cancer-related survey. Elsevier


3 responses to “Using the Internet for Health Information”

  1. romylynndevries says :

    At first I thought that it only was possible to ask your questions online to a doctor but after reading this post I found out that you could get an full online consult. You can even buy some prescription drugs based on this consult (which is really dangerous if you ask me) ( I think being informed can not be bad, but I do think that some people misinterpret some information that is on the internet. I also think that the gut feelings people have about their own health situation is worth a lot. Sometimes being a bit overworried is better than ignoring your symptoms.

  2. gabriellapimpao says :

    I believe that technology will be able to supplement doctors in health care more and more: I am not sure if it will be through the Internet but for example linking your fitness and health apps with your doctors database, wearable technology and usage of big data when analysing blood etc. test results has the potential to help doctors switching from looking at numbers, doing administration (I don’t know about the Netherlands but in many less developed countries doctors are the ones who do the administrative stuff also unfortunately) to talk with the patients and get to know the potential underlying reasons of an illness. Because we could already use technology and data to do diagnosis of many disease but machines will never (or at least not in the near future) be able to talk with the patient and find out when do they usually have pain, what happened in their life when they started having the symptoms etc. Bigger usage of technology in healthcare would help both doctors and patients by letting them spend more time figuring out the underlying reasons and starting therapy from the root of the problem not the symptoms. (And there is a lot of opportunity for growth as according to Mary Mekker’s Internet Trend report for 2015: healthcare along with education and the governmental sector are still the least impacted by the internet:
    There is a young doctor who have a FB page called the Medical Futurist ( who usually post super interesting things about the new development in healthcare technology if you are interested in the topic it is cool to follow him 🙂

  3. 358535ss says :

    I must admit I have looked up my symptoms on the Internet once or twice. Obviously some results stated worst-case scenarios and hence I stopped being my own online doctor. Nonetheless, the healthcare system and healthcare professionals are certainly affected by the Internet. The first problem we encounter is the fact that an enormous amount of information is available, but little of that is truly valuable. The subsequent problem is whether the information applying to your specific case is actually available, traceable and/or accessible on the Internet.

    But perhaps even more important is to have mutual trust in the interaction between you as a patient and the healthcare professional you are dealing with. The information on the Internet can be part of this interaction and improve the communication leading to mutual agreement on for instance a certain treatment.

    Eric Topol is a cardiologist and a pioneer in genetics and technology who wrote the book ‘The patient will see you now. The future of medicine is in your hands’. He encourages people to gather as much information about their own health as possible in order to manage it themselves. In doing so you should make use of technology. “The more that patients control their data, the author argues, the safer and more individualized medical care can become.” Thus, there is more and more support for managing your health with the help of technology and the Internet.

    I believe the Internet cannot replace doctors, not only for the obvious actions like executing surgery and doing research, but also for the human interaction involved. For now, I prefer my real life doctor. However, it is interesting to see he uses Google as well during his consults. For instance, he searches for images to show me exactly which muscle is causing my pain. The difference is that he knows what he is looking for, while most patients do not.


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