The Age of Cyberchondria
The internet is a source of valuable medical information. However, it has the potential to increase anxiety in people who have no medical training, when it is employed as a diagnostic procedure. While hypochondriasis is a condition that is familiar in the medical literature, there is little research into the effects of technology on health anxiety and hypochondria. The literature supports the view that technology impacts on the management of one’s health and on the traditional doctor-patient relationships. Anxiety induced by health-related online search is an increasingly differentiated activity and is known in the field of cyberpsychology as cyberchondria. This literature review aims to evaluate a broad range of research studies concerning health anxiety, hypochondria, online medical information seeking and the emerging phenomenon of cyberchondria. Themes identified include: technology-facilitated health information seeking; the impact of medical online search on traditional doctor-patient relationships in the consultation process; the need for better health management; and, medical knowledge empowerment of patients. Aspects of health-related information-seeking behaviour relevant for cyberpsychology are also considered. The latest recommendations of the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V (DSM-V) working party regarding future classification of hypochondria and technology-facilitated symptom seeking are reported. Recommendations for further research include a large-scale study to assess the prevalence and nature of cyberchondria. The findings of the review are relevant for healthcare professionals, as the impact of the internet on patient behaviour and healthcare management is likely to increase steadily over time.