(Graphics by Chubi | Amaranth)
Early in the morning while drinking your coffee, you suddenly have an uneasy feeling. You’re having a headache and you might be wondering the reason behind that. Instead of going to the nearest clinic, you grabbed your phone and browsed the internet for the possible diagnosis of your headache. And eventually, you end up googling serious conditions, particularly brain tumors.
This may sound scary, but this phenomenon is common for some of us.
The internet has been a game-changer for ages and most people rely on it in looking for answers to their questions and uncovering information about their interests. One of the many pieces of information they can get online includes medical symptoms. While intuitive diagnostic websites may shed some light on symptoms that concern people, the use of the internet for self-diagnosis increases anxiety, especially among those who have no training in the health professions.
Based on datareportal.com, the Philippine internet penetration rate stood at 73.1% in 2023 while a handful of Filipinos searching for their symptoms online have permeated especially during the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, these concerns led to the age of what we call cyberchondria. As described by Italian scientists in a research paper, the term is a behavior characterized by excessive online searching for medical information associated with increasing levels of health anxiety. It was derived from the word “cyber” which means the internet and “hypochondria”, the medical term for health anxiety.
Aside from causing anxiety, frequent searching for health information online may lead to unnecessary medical visits. Health search technology impacts how information is disseminated and without further assessment, you will diagnose yourself with that specific serious disease. These algorithms used by search engines create a spurious hierarchy based largely on the frequency of diagnosis without considering the actual incidence or prevalence of the condition.
For that reason, developing health anxieties will immensely interfere with how you function and maintain relationships with others. There is a high risk of not coping with this condition and this is very crucial to the quality of life in the long run. Additionally, there is a lot of health information available online, and it can be hard to know what is accurate and what is not.
This problematic aspect of cyberchondria has its negative effects on the patient-physician relationship. The tendency of some individuals to avoid doctors can lead to problems with self-diagnosis and self-treatment. Diagnosing and medicating oneself threatens our body and fails to seek appropriate healthcare, with further negative consequences. After all, symptom checkers are easy to use but less accurate than medical professionals.
Cyberchondria is an example of how digital technology can take a toll on the mental health of people. So, if you’re concerned about your health, the rational thing to do is see a doctor.