January 22, 2015
I was listening to the comedy channel on Sirius and had to laugh out loud when the comedian started into a routine about internet medicine. According to the entertainer, there are only big diseases on WebMD. Yes, if your toe hurts and you Google “pain in toe,” you will end up with toe cancer or Toelallia!
In April of 2011, I published “Cyberchondria.” The article is reprinted below for your pleasure.
In yesterday’s article, I wrote about how helpful it is to have a patient who is actively involved in his own healthcare. I applauded the patient who questions her symptoms and formulates her own diagnosis. As with everything that is good, there are also potential negatives. Today I want to address “Cyberchondria.”
I first read the term “Cyberchondria” on KevinMD.com. I immediately fell in love with the term, as it aptly described a phenomenon I see on a regular basis. Out of every 10 patients who Google about their healthcare, I get one cyberchondriac. That one cyberchondriac is miserable, locked into a perceived diagnosis that threatens his very existence.
On 12/20/10, I wrote an article about a patient who was so worried she had a disease that her stress was making her sicker than if she actually had the disease she was worried about. “Cyberchondria” can make you sick. It can make you sicker than if you actually had whatever it was that you were worried about! “Cyberchondria” is a very expensive illness. Google will inform you that you should have a large number of laboratory and radiologic procedures and see multiple specialists. Google will also give you dietary advice and sells you vitamins, herbs and snake oil.
“Cyberchondria” is one of those symptom complexes that I hate to deal with. It is worse than fatigue (Why am I always tired? 4/01/11). It is a lose, lose situation for me and the patient. Despite my degree and 30 plus years of experience, Google trumps me every time. I am forced to admit that my patient “could” have XYZ disease, even though XYZ disease has only been reported in the wilderness of South Africa. I am pressured into running expensive tests to prove my patient doesn’t have XYZ disease, and once I have proven my point, I am confronted with the other possibility Google mentioned, CDF disease.
I published “Possible vs. Probable” on March 29th, hoping that it would help patients when they search the internet and explore their health. I should publish a companion article entitled “Could and Would” as well. When my patient asks me, “Could I have..?”, the answer is always yes, you could; however it is not probable. So, how do you prevent becoming a cyberchondriac?
Be careful when you Google anything. Google brings you lots of really good information thrown in with lots of garbage. The garbage is cleverly packaged by experts in marketing and looks so good that I have trouble discerning what is real and what is not real. I have created a resource page at https://lzftc.com/that offers hyperlinks to the websites I use for research. Feel free to logon and search! When you search the internet, try to remember that everything is possible. What you are truly searching for is the probability that you have a given disease.
Most importantly, try not to anchor yourself to any diagnosis. “Anchoring” occurs when you grab hold of a diagnosis so tightly that you can’t see the other possibilities. “Anchoring” is a phenomenon physicians and patients alike should avoid. It leads to errors. Once you have the information you are looking for, see your physician. Keep an open mind. Rely on your physician to help you find the truth and then find a solution. Do not self treat. Most of all do not worry yourself sick!
Knowledge can empower you. Knowledge can also cripple you. Use your newfound knowledge well. The life you save may be your own.