I’ve always had an interest in medicine. I was reading the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine when I was in high school. I had thoughts of maybe entering med school at one point, but realized that I didn’t nearly have the discipline to ever become a doctor. The other thing is that I’m too much of a hypochondriac. If I worked in a hospital, I’d be coming down with a new disease every week.
But even though my interest in medicine has waned somewhat over the years, there still have been a few benefits. I can actually hold an intelligent conversation with my doctor and pretty much understand what he’s talking about. This can be a good and a bad thing because over the years I’ve pretty much been the family interpreter for all things medical. Not too much time goes by without somebody calling me and asking me the question: “My doctor told me such and such. What does it mean?” They’re asking me when they really should be asking their doctor to explain what he’s talking about.
Most families have at least one information junkie who knows a little about medicine, but these days the Internet has taken the place of a lot of them. All you have to do is put the name of a disease or condition that you have symptoms of into Google and it will spit out a countless number of websites with information on your problem.
And a lot of this information is good, but the problem arises when people use the Internet, (or me) to diagnose a condition without seeing their doctors first Is that back pain just a muscle spasm, or is it kidney cancer? What about that headache? Is it just a sinus problem or something much more serious? As they say: “Sometimes a little knowledge can be dangerous.”
According to the New York Times, (www.nytimes.com), the official term for the “unfounded escalation of concerns about common symptom logy, based on search results and literature on the Web” is cyberchrondria.
Researchers conducted a large-scale study on the extent that searching for common innocuous symptoms can lead to the review of content on much more serious, rare conditions that are linked to the common symptoms. They also found that there was a great deal of anxiety after the escalated searches and recommended ways to improve the search and navigation experience of people turning to the web to interpret common symptoms. But the best thing to do if you have doubts or questions is to ask your doctor, but you may need the Internet to understand him.