Microsoft Discovers Cyberchondria

from the internet-is-going-to-kill-you dept

Some researchers at Microsoft have been studying cyberchondria, the phenomenon of people searching the web for medical info, then concluding they’ve got some horrible disease or affliction. They conclude that “Web search engines have the potential to escalate medical concerns.” That seems like something we already knew, but the researchers suggest one potential way to deal with the issue would be to teach search engines to recognize when they’re being used as a medical diagnostic tool, and get them to respond with something other than pages about brain tumors, rare diseases and other worst-case-scenario maladies. One suggestion is a list of possible issues related to the symptom a user searches for, ranked in order of likelihood. That sounds fine, except, is that really all that different than the situation today? If a susceptible user searches for the cause of a headache, and something like a brain tumor gets mentioned, whether in passing or at the bottom of a ranked list, won’t they fixate on it or some other serious condition? While online health information could certainly be made more useful, trying to change it so as to carve out cyberchondria seems pretty pointless, as the hypochondriacs will simply find another source to feed their anxiety.

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Companies: microsoft

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Comments on “Microsoft Discovers Cyberchondria”

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Anonymous Coward says:

No, now I’ve got Cyberchondria too?

I don’t think it really matters. If you have symptoms, you are probably checking for a worst case scenario.

The key is to provide more information. You don’t need an MRI to diagnose a headache. So someone providing a web service with medical guidance on when to contact a doctor might be useful.

For instance, if:
a)you rate you headache as a 8+ on a scale of 10.
b)the room is spinning
c)you have trouble standing on one leg
d)you haven’t consumed alcohol
You probably have vertigo.
Schedule a doctor’s appointment within a week, if symptoms persist.

I’d use that service all of the time. Especially if it was for kids.

NullOp says:


Actually, pharmaceutical companies are probably working on a drug to control it!!! No kidding! IMHO, the drug companies long ago decided that everyone must have a ‘treatable’ disease for which they can manufacture a ‘cure.’ Although, they are not interested in curing anything. Its much more profitable to treat symptoms! You think i’m kidding….think about it!

David says:

I have a headache

I knew one of those sort of hypochondriac folk well. I used to have an aquaintance (note the PAST tense!) who was a teacher and a musician and didn’t really live in the real world, like a lot of people in those professions I have found, although I’ve no wish to tar them all with the same brush. He claimed to be a highly-strung, sensitive and vulnerable soul, susceptible to every malady under the sun it seemed and every time we did anything as simple as going out for a drink I was treated to a bulletin on the latest afflictions. I think they ranged from numerous “chest infections” (a cold to the likes of you and me) to having a private course of “cranial osteopathy” to treat some obscure disease that he claimed to have. Of course, the internet is a god-send for people like that. Print out the “symptoms”, march into your doctor, tell him what you’ve got (makes him a bit superfluous really, doesn’t it?) and get a cure. Simple really. Don’t know why more people don’t do it.

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