Are You Suffering from ‘Cybercondria’?
New research from Microsoft explores the impact of health-related Web content on consumer behavior. Their conclusion? A great many of us suffer from ‘cyberchondria’ - the practice of drawing dire conclusions about one’s health from researching symptoms and conditions online.
The researchers found that among their study sample, roughly 2% of Web queries were health-related, and about a quarter of these included at least one medical search. About a third of sample subjects “escalated” with follow-up searches to explore serious illnesses.
The researchers also found that ‘information obtained from healthcare-related searches can affect peoples’ decisions about when to engage a physician for assistance with diagnosis or therapy, how to treat an acute illness or cope with a chronic condition, as well as their overall approach to maintaining their health or the health of someone in their care’.
Three factors compound the problem of health-related online searches.
Not all web-content is created equal. Many sites are not legitimate or reliable sources for medical information.
Website ranking is not a reliable indicator of validity. Many users only look at the first few search results assuming they must be the most valid. This may or may not be the case – particularly if the website has paid for placement (these are the ‘sponsored links’ at the top of search results).
Frequency of content found online is not proportional to actual risk. The researchers found just as many results that linked headaches with brain tumors as with caffeine withdrawal, although the chance of having a brain tumor is infinitesimally small.
There is a great deal of extremely useful health content available online, but before you change your diet, dosage, or decisions contact your doctor. For more information see my blog Who are you going to trust: Your doctor or the Web?