You probably have Cyberchondria | Infographic

You really should stop looking your health symptoms up on the Internet!

Feeling a little under the weather? Having joint pain? You might be tempted to turn to Google to understand your symptoms or even self-diagnose. Despite your desire to save your doctor time and work, that Google search could be doing more harm than good. Statistics show that patients who Google their symptoms before going to see a doctor are much more likely to have issues with anxiety and fear about their illness.

That ‘Google’ anxiety even has a clinical name. Cyberchondria is “the unfounded escalation of concerns about common symptoms based on review of search results and literature online.”

The Rounds has put together this infographic to show the impact cyberchondria can have on all of us. Please feel free to share it on your social networks and use our hashtag #HealthcareIsSocial.

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In 2009, the American Medical Informatics Association surveyed 500 people. They found that almost all the participants had low levels of medical anxiety until they turned to the Internet for answers. After searching for their symptoms online, 40% of respondents reported an immediate rise in anxiety levels. Conversely approximately half of the sample population admitted to using the Internet to reinforce a decision to avoid a visit to their primary care physician.

It is easy to see how this behaviour could lead to unnecessary clinic visits and diagnostic testing as patients seek tangible reassurance that they aren’t suffering from what they found on the Internet. Moreover, for the other half of the group who decide they don’t need medical intervention, this could lead to the worsening of a condition and leave more serious illnesses undiagnosed.

Further complicating the issue of Googling symptoms is the overwhelming number of unreliable but convincing websites suggesting unproven and often dangerous treatments, made up conditions, and user forums with thousands of unqualified people providing inaccurate advice. This creates needle in a haystack scenario for finding a correct diagnosis for your concerns.

In the UK, they are tackling the issue of patients self-diagnosing on the Internet with a resource allowing users to identify their symptoms and their location. The site then advises them as to whether they need to seek out a family physician, a walk-in clinic or head directly to an ER.

Belgium has started Don’t Google It, a similar online campaign to encourage users to avoid using google for medical diagnosis. Even google has realized this trend needs to be addressed and is experimenting with video conferencing for symptoms.

Could an online video conferencing service help reassure patients, prevent inappropriate diagnostic testing, and ensure that those who should seek care are referred to the right place? Could a system like this be implemented in Canada? How do you feel that googling symptoms can be address? Join the discussion below, but before you do, go see your GP.

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