Microsoft Researches “Cyberchondria”

Very interesting article from the New York Times today about the subject of “cyberchondria.”  That’s when you research medical symptoms on the Internet, and 20 minutes later you start to think that you’ve got a terminal disease.  It’s one of those “duh” studies, but the intention for the research is to create a better system for searching medical information, and so the basic premise of “cyberchondria” needed to be researched first.

Here’s the money quote:

On Monday, Microsoft researchers published the results of a study of health-related Web searches on popular search engines as well as a survey of the company’s employees.

The study suggests that self-diagnosis by search engine frequently leads Web searchers to conclude the worst about what ails them.

The researchers said they had undertaken the study as part of an effort to add features to Microsoft’s search service that could make it more of an adviser and less of a blind information retrieval tool.

The funny thing is that my own doctor advises her patients to look up additional medical information up online.  I’ll share this story: one time, she wrote down my ailment, passed me the piece of paper, and told me to “Google it.” I looked at her as if to say, “hey, aren’t you the doctor?,” and it really surprised me that medical professionals would be giving that kind of advice.  I assume it’s because of a need to cut down time with patients, but that’s a tad on the negligent side.  By the way, I’m in the process of finding a new doctor.

Here’s to hoping that the study yields some positives for medical “Googling.”  Cyberchondria is real (I’ve had it from time to time, and I’m a pretty logical person), and if more doctors are following my own doctor’s trend of telling patients to “Google it,” then we’ve got real problems.


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