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NAGPUR: It has become very common these days for people to search on Internet about their health conditions. However, excessive searching of health-related issues on Internet has become a matter of concern for doctors.
The state of anxiety in patients developed due to excessive net surfing is known as cyberchondria. It is a growing concern among many doctors as patients can now research any and all symptoms of a rare disease, illness or condition, and develop a state of medical anxiety. Psychiatric Society, Nagpur and Vidarbha Psychiatric Association (VPA) organized an expert lecture by senior Psychiatrist Dr Sudhir Bhave on this issue on Sunday.
“Information relating to health and illness is readily accessible nowadays. Number of people who search health care information online is increasing. But more than 80% of online searchers neither undertake any checks to ensure that information they found is valid nor do they verify the source to ensure accuracy,” said Dr Bhave.
False information creates panic, anxiety and this turns behavioural pattern of people. Psychiatric help becomes necessary when this reaches to cyberchondria level.
“We have developed a module to judge the stage of cyberchondria in people. We let them search Internet under our supervision and note down changes in their behaviour,” said Dr Bhave.
According to him, the algorithm of Internet and search engine optimization settings are automatically set in such a way that serious impact of symptoms comes as priority outcome of any search. For example, when one searches headache as symptom, Internet may show it as a sign of brain tumour because the literature on brain tumour is available in more quantum on Internet.
“Redesigning of search engines for health-related subjects and promotion of Internet literacy in common people is must to avoid this problem. To start with, we should limit our online searching time from 30 to 50 minutes a day,” said Dr Bhave.
The two-day event organized by VPA concluded on Sunday. Dr Arti Bang from SEARCH institute, Gadchiroli, spoke about challenges of mental health services in tribal population. Dr Shreyas Pendharkar spoke about latest research for productive work-life balance while Dr PSVN Sharma from Manipal spoke on psychopathology of delusions.
Be a smart ‘searcher’
More than 50% medical information available online is irrelevant and inappropriate
Make checks to ensure that website you are surfing from is a reputable source
Sites bearing Information Standard logo undergo assessment by NHS England to ensure they provide accurate information
Sites regulated by Care Quality Commission in UK ensure information they provide is accurate
Users can see whether site has an editorial policy in place, or is curated by a doctor or health care professional
If website is open source, such as a forum, then check to see if it is moderated or hosted by a reputable organization.
Information posted on forums may not always have been screened by a medically-qualified person

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