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Paging Doctor Google: Are you a cyberchondriac?

Author: The Simple Bit

Category: Science

We all Google our symptoms. But how accurate is Dr Google, and what is he doing to your brain?

The Simple Bits

  • Cyberchondria is a real condition where you worry about having a condition after reading about it on the internet
  • Only about a third of online symptom checkers are accurate
  • Dr Google CAN help you communicate better with your GP
  • If in doubt, see a GP IRL.

Welcome to the future.

Meat, influencers and reality is virtual. You’re practically living on the internet (for 26.5 hours a week according to the latest Medibank Better Health Index) and all of the world’s health information is there…at your fingertips. So of course you’re searching when you get a throat tickle or a weird rash in the shape of an eggplant. 

A 2019 MedicalDirector survey found that 54% of all internet users regularly use a search engine to access health information.

So far, so normal. Until it isn’t.

Cyberchondria…It’s a thing

 We didn’t make it up, honest.

Cyberchondria describes symptoms of hypochondria associated with the internet, for example worrying about having a disease after reading about it online, or searching diseases and symptoms for hours on end.

 So just hitting the Google machine to get health information doesn’t automatically make you a cyberchondriac. It’s more WHEN and HOW you’re doing it. The things to look for are how often you’re looking (3-4 times a day is bad), how many diseases you’re diagnosing yourself with (5 isn’t good) and how much time you’re spending with Dr Google (1-3 hours is not great).

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Is it a BAD thing?

The internet is a good thing, right? It contains all of the world’s knowledge. So how could doing your research be a bad thing?

Well, it turns out that just like the internet was wrong about Jeff Goldblum dying, it’s often not so good with health information.

A 2015 study published in the British Medical Journal confirmed that only a third of symptom checkers came back with the correct diagnosis at all, and only half included the right diagnosis in their top three suggestions. So you’re more likely to get the wrong information than the right information.

Yeah, but not good at ALL?

Ok ok, some good can come of your reliance on Dr Google (and his colleague Professor Yahoo). A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia examined the experience of patients who had googled symptoms before presenting to two large emergency departments in Melbourne.

While the study found that searching online increased some patients’ anxiety levels, it also helped doctors and patients to communicate better. Participants reported that they felt they could ask more informed questions, understand their doctor and communicate effectively.

So the lesson? Search away, but get some help if it feels like you’re doing it too much. And it’s always best to go see an IRL GP if something is bothering you.