Is online health information good for patients?
In a world where the pace of life is often at breakneck speed and information on pretty much anything is available at the click of a button, many people often consult Google for medical advice.1 But the world wide web is a labyrinth of unregulated information. More patients becoming online experts raises several questions. Could it be doing more harm than good? Should the medical profession encourage the use of the internet as a research tool for patients? What are the implications for future practice?
Microsoft’s Ryen White and Eric Horvitz conducted a study into the growing condition dubbed “cyberchondria,” a phenomenon that describes anxieties about health instigated by reading information online.2 They compared the results of online searches for information about common symptoms including “headache,” “muscle twitches,” and “chest pain” between generic and medical search engines. The results alone are enough to give you palpitations.
Take headaches, for example,