With all the attention being paid to excessive internet use, it is no surprise that many behaviors viewed as obsessive or compulsive before the internet now have internet equivalents. Hypochondria is the pathological condition of believing something is chronically wrong with one’s health. In the past, this drove many people to their nearest medical library. Now there is cyberchondria, where internet users quickly turn to the Web’s vast library of stuff to determine a diagnosis and treatment for the least sign of real or imagined poor health.
Cyberchondria becomes real
In 2016, Psychology Today offered five warning signs to tell if you have cyberchondria. They ranged from the amount of time spent online searching for symptom explanations, to the number of times someone does this daily, to evidence that in fact, that person is actually medically stable.
A 2015 estimate by Google found that 1 in 20 searches on Google are health-related. The cyberchondria problem is now one element of a scientific investigation, the European Problematic Use of the Internet. Of course, cyberchondria may have minimal impact one’s daily life, or it may be serious enough to impact family life or work performance. Investigations such as this one aim to find out.
One of the founding principles of HealthTap was to provide more reliable health information than the typical online healthcare information search was providing. Having already served 7 billion answers to 2.6 million questions to doctors, we continue to succeed at this basic mission.
As our ability to diagnose disease is enhanced by artificial intelligence and machine learning, we are likely to see more cyberchondria, due to the sheer convenience of asking a question and getting an answer – even if we can’t trust the answer. When answers come from unreliable or questionable sources, feeding the cyberchondria habit can be doubly misinforming, or become a vicious cycle.
A doctor’s opinion on cyberchondria
“A true cyberchondriac as described in the article is analogous to the hypochondriac who allows obsessive preoccupation with real or imagined symptoms to interfere with their lives, and for whom the internet amplifies their access to information that drives their obsession,” says HealthTap’s Chief Medical Officer Geoff Rutledge.
Ease of access to health information via the Internet enables ordinary people with ordinary symptoms of non-serious conditions to discover more serious possible causes of those symptoms. Accurate information about the symptoms of rare or more serious health conditions is not helpful to someone with symptoms that are almost certainly caused by more common and less serious conditions, Rutledge says.
Countering cyberchondria with context
“HealthTap solves the problem of scary health information by putting informational answers in the right context,” he says. “Instead of reading about all the scary causes of a symptom, users get answers to their health questions from doctors who understand what is likely and what is not.”
“On HealthTap, users gain access to the collective knowledge of doctors when they consult with Dr. AI. Dr. A.I. guides them to the healthcare they may need by explaining the likely causes for their symptoms, for someone of their age, gender, risk factors, and other prior conditions.”
If you or someone you care for have concerns about cyberchondria, HealthTap can help you determine if you need help setting boundaries. In this age of limitless information and distractions, it’s time to take stock of whether more is better.