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.

Filed Under: cyberchondria
Companies: microsoft


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  • identicon
    erica stjohn, 1 Dec 2008 @ 2:54pm

    human nature

    I think its the people that need the programming adjsutment, not the data or search engines. Peopel are too pessimistic

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    erica stjohn, 1 Dec 2008 @ 2:54pm

    human nature

    I think its the people that need the programming adjsutment, not the data or search engines. Peopel are too pessimistic

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Blackup, 1 Dec 2008 @ 3:12pm

    Well....

    Maybe people should just stop searching for diagnoses on 4chan...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    mogilny, 1 Dec 2008 @ 3:45pm

    where do u draw the line?

    Is searching for weight loss or ED information going to get filtered as well? Who gets to decide what is "good"? And what happens if someone has a brain tumour and is told to drink more water?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Dec 2008 @ 3:46pm

    good idea by M$ i think, but as usual barking up the wrong tree.

    improving search engine results is something all the search engines should work on, and ppl who has odd symptoms should consider taking an appointment at the doctors.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Dec 2008 @ 3:58pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    ipanema, 1 Dec 2008 @ 4:14pm

    i get hits from people who are looking for symptoms of a certain illness since i have some posts touching on some maladies. but just the other day i got one who searched for: "desperately seeking doctors". i'm not sure what the person was feeling then. i was forming conclusions. i hope that person is ok.

    thanks for the post.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dave Thewlis, 1 Dec 2008 @ 4:15pm

    This malady used to be called Intern's Disease, after the tendency for medical students to suddenly come down with the most severe symptoms of whatever disease they were studying. It might be logical to see what the medical profession has done in the past to guard or warn against this propensity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    NullOp, 1 Dec 2008 @ 5:13pm

    Cybercondria

    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!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 2 Dec 2008 @ 3:14am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John, 2 Dec 2008 @ 3:30am

    Been going on for years - see 'Three Men in a Boat' by Jerome K. Jerome.

    Just using a different source.

    John

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Gene Cavanaugh, 2 Dec 2008 @ 8:31pm

    cyberchondria

    People who are that paranoid would react to any attempt at filtering with more paranoia. Such an attempt would make their condition worse; they would still feel they had a loathsome disease, and that people were trying to keep them from knowing (maliciously, of course).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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