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Cyberchondria: Doctors Concerned Over Patients’ Use of Internet to Self-Diagnose

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If you’re like many other Americans, you’ve probably googled your symptoms to figure out what malady you’re suffering from to avoid a trip to the doctor. Unfortunately, most websites don’t have doctors available to sort out the myths from the truths that are posted. As a result, the information can cause more anxiety than necessary–or worse, allay fears to the detriment to someone with a potentially serious medical problem.

Two new studies reveal that doctors are concerned over patients’ reliance on the web to figure out their medical problems. One study, conducted by The Pew Research Center, found that 83% of adults who use the Internet have looked up their symptoms online. Doctors that were also surveyed in the study cited concerns about patient-doctor communications; specifically that a lack of time prevented many patients from communicating with their doctors about their medical problems. Consequently, 53% of doctors said that they were concerned over medical misinformation spread via the Internet.

Similar concerns were found in a study conducted by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. In that study researchers viewed the 100 most-viewed YouTube videos about Inflammatory Bowel Disease and rated the quality of information in most of them as poor. Nevertheless, doctors and public health officials realize that social networking sites and other Internet sources aren’t losing their power to spread information quickly, regardless of the quality or truth. They cite the need for doctors and professional societies to provide more educational and efficient materials to counteract the misinformation flooding the Internet.