Surfing the net for medical advice can turn you into a cyberchondriac

November 27th, 2008 - 1:27 pm ICT by ANI  

Melbourne, Nov 27 (ANI): Did a morning headache followed by an Internet search on the pain made you come to the conclusion that youve a brain tumor? Well, in that case, youre one of the rising number of sufferers with cyberchondria, according to researchers.

According to US boffins, playing doctor on the web often leads people to mistakenly believe that they are suffering from rare illnesses.

To reach the conclusion, researchers from Microsoft Research in Redmond, Washington, conducted a large-scale longitudinal study of how people search for medical information online, reports ABC Online.

The report was released this week.

The researchers looked at logs of what pages people visited and also surveyed the health-related search experiences of 515 individuals as part of their study.

“Web search engines have the potential to escalate medical concerns,” or “cyberchondria,” write Dr Ryen White and Dr Eric Horvitz.

They described cyberchondria as “unfounded increases in health anxiety based on the review of web content.”

White, an expert in text mining, web search and navigation, and Horvitz, another Microsoft researcher who is president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, note that the internet provides an “abundant source” of medical information.

“However, the web has the potential to increase the anxieties of people who have little or no medical training, especially when web search is employed as a diagnostic procedure,” they say.

“Common, likely innocuous symptoms can escalate into the review of content on serious, rare conditions that are linked to the common symptoms,” the researchers add.

The researchers say search engine architects have a responsibility to work against cyberchondria by, among other things, improving the way search results are ranked. (ANI)

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