Cyberchondria – Don’t Let This Happen to You!
The Internet is an amazing tool for people researching health conditions, possible treatment options or medical specialists. An unlimited amount of information is available at the click of a mouse. This is good, right?
Unfortunately, the reality is a double-edged sword. Yes, the Internet lets people become well informed, but it has can also foster “cyberchondria” and “analysis paralysis.”
I now see my Great Aunt Frieda in a whole new light. I’m glad that she lived before the Information Revolution. You see, Auntie F, as we called her, was a hypochondriac. She constantly visited her doctor for a multitude of problems. It was easy then because doctors could spend more time with patients and it cost less. So her doctor would listen to her, reassure her that she was not dying of the symptom of the week, and see her again in a week or two to hear about her newest issue. She lived, in nearly perfect health, until a peaceful death at age 95.
The 21st century gives us a new twist to this story. “Cyberchondriacs” spend hours at the computer screen, typing in symptoms or fears, wading through the results, both accurate and inaccurate, and convincing themselves they have a certain condition. Often, they will print out reams of documentation and present themselves to their doctors, having already diagnosed their “condition” and determined a course of treatment. To make matters worse, bogus information may appear as genuine evidence-based medicine and is often flanked by marketing ploys offering miraculous treatments
In a May 2002 research report, the Pew Internet & American Life Project (www.pewinternet.org) called them “health-seekers.” “About 6 million Americans go online for medical advice on a typical day,” said Pew in its Vital Decisions report. “That means more people go online for medical advice on any given day than actually visit health professionals (on a given day),” Pew said, comparing the 6 million estimate figures to an unspecified, but lower number provided by the American Medical Association.
What is the cost of cyberchondria? It is estimated in the millions of dollars and rising every year due to unnecessary visits to the doctor’s office or emergency room, un-needed and possibly invasive tests.
Online medical information is wonderfully helpful and useful in many situations. But, like anything else, moderation is the key. Choosing sources wisely, using good sense to edit the results, and getting OFF of the computer when it all becomes too much are important keys to successful use of online health information. To learn more about evaluating health information on the Internet, visit http://tinyurl.com/Evaluate-Info-On-Internet
Submitted by Guest Editor Debora Harvey, Patient Navigator LLC