NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Are you a “cyberchondriac”? Well, if your first instinct was to look up “cyberchondriac” on WebMD, the answer is probably yes.
Harris Interactive, which claims to have coined the term in the late ’90s, has a new report out about the phenomenon of people who regularly go online to look up health-related information. In a phone poll of about 1,000 people, about 75% of adults said they have looked up medical information online, which comes as no surprise. What is surprising is that a solid 60% of adults have done so in the last month, which suggests that people are either getting sick on a regular basis or that a lot of us are indeed “cyberchondriacs” who compulsively look for information about every ache or ailment.
Obviously the Internet is a vast store of information, and well-established sites like WebMD convey accurate information. But it’s also clear how these databases can play into people’s worst fears. For instance, when you do a search for “sore throat” on the site, it correctly notes that “most sore throats are caused by a minor illness and go away without medical treatment.” But it also lists some of the various ailments that may cause a sore throat, including mononucleosis, gonorrhea and chlamydia. It’s easy to see how such information could play into the worst fears of a hypochondriac.
When we spoke to health care professionals about their pet peeves earlier this year, some said they appreciated the trend of patients taking responsibility for their own health, while others bemoaned the fact that WebMD users seemed convinced that they knew better than their doctors. And if you have any doubt that people can be swayed by misleading medical information they get on the Internet or elsewhere, just look at the recent incident in which talk show host Dr. Oz told his audience that apple juice had dangerous levels of arsenic – a claim the FDA called “irresponsible and misleading.”
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