Cyberchondria is a state of mind where a person blindly trusts the Internet for medical information and stops treatment.
Do you have the habit of searching the internet for information on medicines your doctor has prescribed? Do you blindly stop the treatment after worrying about certain side effects mentioned on websites? Or do you self-diagnose based on online information and get medication on your own? If you're nodding your head, you may suffering from cyberchondria, a growing global concern.
“With internet access, searching for medical information has become common now. It can either complement or obstruct the treatment. The former, leading to an intelligent discussion with the doctor, is a healthy practice. The latter will hinder the treatment and is called cyberchondria,” says Dr C.J. John, a Kochi-based psychiatrist.
Cyberchondria, which is also called IDIOT (Internet Derived Information Obstruction Treatment) Syndrome, is one of the major challenges that medical practitioners across the globe are facing now. “The situation has grown to such an extent that doctors are forced to prescribe tests like X-ray and scanning that may not be required in certain cases, just because patients demand it. People trust the internet and don’t realise that each case is different and medicines are prescribed accordingly. For instance, Viagra, which is given to adults for sexual dysfunction, can be given to a 6-month-old baby to solve heart problems and control blood pressure,” says psychologist Dr K.S. David.
Depending on Dr Google may help you gather information but blindly trusting it will invite trouble. “Earlier, we had the system of family doctor. We used to consult him first and then go for further treatment according to his advice. Now, people turn to the internet for advice and choose medical departments and doctors considering the symptoms found there. That may be wrong and by the time they find the right doctor, they might have wasted a lot of money,” says Dr David.
Modern medicine is the worst affected because all medical details are available online. “There are common and uncommon side effects. A cyberchondriac’s eyes will hook onto the worst of all. Imagine a cyberchondriac searching about a particular disease that has minimal per cent mortality rate, then that person would be unnecessary anxious about that. He is not going to validate the information with the doctor,” says Dr John. The doctors should also be aware of this situation, he says. “The healthcare community should be equipped to confront rational and irrational questions,” he adds.
How can we tackle it? “Use it wisely,” says Dr David. “We cannot ask people to abstain from the internet as it is helpful in many ways. It even helps doctors. What we can do is teach people to use it properly. Our healthcare department should give proper orientation to people,” he adds.
Dr John concurs. He exhorts using it in a constructive way and generating a balanced view. “We should develop a culture of using the information for better healthcare. All cyber information won’t be correct. One could find anti-modern medicine information there. In that case, don’t panic. Check with an expert. The internet shouldn’t be the final word,” he cautions.
With internet access growing rapidly, the amount of information will only increase with time. We should be wise. Next time, while seeking advice from Dr Google, think twice before you leap.