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