We all experience times when we feel that the world revolves around us. This, in turn, results in a sense of paranoia, where we assume that all that can go wrong will indeed go wrong. This belief of ours may only seem mildly harmful to us, but an overdose of it can certainly be a cause for deeper psychological issues. In this era of technology, more and more people look to the internet in order to self-diagnose any health issues they may be facing, and often they find themselves overwhelmed by the massive spiral of information available. This effect is termed Cyberchondria, and is loosely defined as erroneously believing to be afflicted with diseases based on symptoms listed online. The abundance of information available on the internet does not always help one with this issue, rather it feeds this growing paranoia and leads to increasing amounts of anxiety and stress. Had it been 2018 instead of 1889, Jerome K. Jerome wouldn’t have to go all the way to the British Museum to convince himself and his friends (not to forget the dog) about the astounding boat trip. He could have decided about it in the comfort of his own home. And who knows, with the number of sources he would have had access to, he might even have diagnosed himself with housemaid’s knee. However, one may argue, what is the use of such a knowledge sharing platform when one is never to use it? It is important to note that googling the symptoms of heart attack after going through chest pain won’t make you cyberchondriac. It is only when you visit various health websites almost daily and fear having most of the diseases even though you are medically stable. Cyberchondria certainly increases anxiety, and we don’t really need another source of it in our lives. Remember, heartburn and heart attack both have very similar symptoms, except for a tiny life-saving difference.
Explain like I’m a Geek
Fusion of hypochondria, a state of being in chronic anxiety about one’s health, with the internet is the underlying concept of cyberchondria, also known as compucondria. This linkage offers potential benefits for both consumers and healthcare professionals, for example, cost and time-saving, availability of a wide array of information, support for interpersonal interaction and social support, tailored information, and anonymity. The medical information available on the web is generally valid, although in most cases, it is also likely to be incomplete. About a quarter of all the web users are engaged in at least one medical search, most of which refrain from checking key quality indicators such as the validity of the source and the creation date of medical information. Exposing people with no medical training to complex terminology and descriptions of medical conditions may put them at risk of harm caused due to self-diagnosis and self-treatment.
Eysenbach and colleagues  systematically reviewed health website evaluations and found that the most frequently used quality criteria included accuracy, completeness, and design (e.g., visual appeal, layout, readability). On a simple web search, there are as many results which link headache with brain tumour as with caffeine withdrawal, although the chances of the former are infinitesimally small. This often leads people into misdiagnosing themselves and adopting treatments that are inappropriate, wasting money and unnecessarily worrying about illnesses they do not have.
One major reason for cyberchondria is uncertainty which emerges when the decision-maker is unable to predict outcomes accurately. This creates a cycle of anxiety and uncertainty, where one leads to the other. Even well-educated users could lack the background to determine the qualifications of web authors and separate truth from opinion. The presented information is often glamorised by including escalatory terminology. Escalation of medical concerns is potentially related to a user’s predisposition to escalate or seek more reasonable explanations for ailments. Other potential factors for rise of inappropriate concerns include biases of human judgment. In the past, cognitive psychologists have presented strong evidence that humans often employ heuristics in assessing the likelihoods of events, rather than observing actual probabilities. While employing intuition can be quite useful, it frequently leads to systematic errors and biases in judgment in two forms — base-rate neglect, the failure to adequately consider background or prior probabilities of events, and the availability bias, the influence of recent events on a subject’s ability to assess likelihoods.
Fitness is directly related to survival and thus, any oddity can be a source of vexation for the individual. The greater the problem for the patient, the more the medical practitioners suffer. There are instances where patients hesitate to believe that they are not seriously ill based on the information gathered from medical web pages regarding their symptoms.
Due to this being a recent phenomenon, the preventive measures need rigorous considerations. Search engines should be more like an advisor rather than blind information retrieval tools. Their architects should be aware of the potential challenges of cyberchondria, and focus on serving medical search results that are reliable, complete, and timely, as well as topically relevant. There are algorithmic challenges in incorporating likelihood estimates and de-biasing search results, evaluation challenges in determining the probability that a set of search results will lead to unfounded escalation, and interface challenges in when and how we should alert users that an escalation is imminent or has already occurred. In such a case, data collection regarding the traits proves to be immensely helpful to provide appropriate warnings to concerned users so as to reduce the cons of the internet, and hence fulfilling the motive it was developed for.
Explain Like I’m Cyberchondriac
Many people are, unknowingly, the victims of cyberchondria. You could be one of them, googling its symptoms might help you validate your belief. The amount of online literature on medicine and pharmaceutics has increased tremendously and thus, verification of every fact presented is practically impossible. It is sometimes difficult to differentiate between opinions and facts, especially in the virtual world. Thus, it has become all the more important to not instantly believe in any data, both from medical and non-medical sources, and subsequently form conclusions. So, the next time, even if you spot AMS or Brain Tumor in the first few search results, make sure to consult your physician BEFORE the panic sets in.
Explain Like I am John Doe
Acquainting new people is considered an important social trait among homo-sapiens. However, for most, this seems to be an unusually difficult task. Sometimes, we are unable to understand people who have different beliefs and opinions than those of ours. Thus, for normal people like yourselves (most definitely an overstatement, here normal only refers to being non-cyberchondriac), it is very difficult to understand the anxiety of a cyberchondriac. They may seem incredibly stupid at first, but a second closer and deeper look reveals that they only lack the ability to think rationally. Anyone with anxiety issues, in general, is likely to develop this condition, given the enticing nature of the internet. Most of us are addicted to something or the other, and checking medical websites is their addiction. Although, unlike other habits, it hardly provides any pleasure or satisfaction. So judging them on this basis is pointless, even though something different could be said about being sympathetic.