Whatever your field may be, you definitely had at least one patient that paid a visit to Dr. Google before consulting you. Cyberchondria is the only medical condition in the world that was aptly discovered by the IT guys at Microsoft. Senior Information Technologist, Reyn White, and his research partner Eric Horvitz noticed the alarming number of searches of health information back in 2008. If that number was one in 20 back then, you can bet it’s higher today.
Ok, so a lot of people are googling, what’s the big deal? For one, as a physician you may feel you’re having the same “don’t believe everything you read on the internet’’ conversation. So much so, you may be inclined to charge an extra fee to the self-diagnosers. Although, some patients have charged themselves that extra fee when they demanded to undergo pricey medical tests.
That’s right, even with your better judgement, cyberchondriacs are much more likely to go through unnecessary medical exams. And possibly treat themselves with whatever miracle drug or vitamin they come across on the web. However, the real danger lies in the stress and anxiety cyberchondria causes.
We live in the age of technology so everyone is at risk, right? Sorry, but no. Not all patients who Google are cyberchondriacs. Although, people who suffer from anxiety, those of low-income, and first-time mothers are the most likely to self-diagnose. In fact, Baylor University administered a survey that resulted in a direct correlation between anxiety and people’s intolerance to uncertainty.
So, the root of cyberchondria is the need to know, but that’s not always the whole story. Too many Americans either do not have an adequate amount of health insurance or none at all, so you can see the appeal of free medical advice. This fact combined with the currently increasing physician shortage has lead to new integrations like virtual physicians and telemedicine.
The Cure to Cyberchondria
Take these steps in order to veer your patients away from Dr. Google and regain their trust:
- Once you hear a variation of “I was searching online and…” Suppress the eye roll and exhale of exasperation. Listen to what they have to say. This will gain their trust & confidence in you so next time they’ll seek your advice and not that of Dr. Google’s.
- This is the part where you give the “Internet is not always reliable” speech. And offer them a way to reach you for any questions they may have. But if they must do their own research, give them a list of credible websites they can use. A good rule of thumb, are sites that end in .gov or .edu.
- Lastly, if you are sensing that their symptoms are causing some stress, offer a follow-up appointment. It’ll keep them at ease that you are doing what you can to get some answers as well.