Archive - Jan 31, 2012

Meta-Cyberchondria

In American Medical News yesterday, there was an article, Cyberchondria: the one diagnosis patients miss. It refers to a Pew Research Center survey that found eight in ten Americans use the Internet to look for health information. It also referred to research from Microsoft which found that nine in ten respondents reported at least one instance where their search of online health information led them to review content about more serious illnesses.

The article goes on to say, "More often, though, the large number of health websites, some of which are unreliable, mislead patients into thinking they have a medical problem, say health professionals." This is where the article really falls apart. Which health professionals are they referring to? Is this based on peer-reviewed data or simply on the gut feeling of a couple doctors who were friends of the article's author who don't like people doing their own online search?

Even the use of the Microsoft research seems suspect. When attempting to get information about a condition, it seems reasonable to look at conditions that present similar symptoms to be able to properly differentiate between different conditions. This research might lead patients into thinking they have a medical condition or it might simply help the patient be more prepared in discussing the symptoms.

It seems as if, at the root of this is the question of who knows best? Does a patient's knowledge of their own body and symptoms outweigh the years of experience a doctor has gained? Does the information a patient can gain online change this equation, either for the better or for the worse?

How real a problem is Cyberchondria, and how real is 'Meta-Cyberchondria', some sort of fear doctors have about patients coming in and either having false information or more information than the doctors?

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