You’ve probably heard of hypochondria: when someone is excessively worried about their health and usually jumps to the worst-case scenario of a symptom. Now, in the digital age, there is cyberchondria: when one has a symptom and turns to the Internet for a diagnosis, although once again jumping to the worst-case scenario.
In the medical field, you likely come across cyberchondria often. While it is healthy and smart for patients to be invested in their own health and do their own research, it can be frustrating trying to help patients who already think they know it all.
What can you do to help treat patients with cyberchondria?
Create an environment of trust for patients with cyberchondria.
When a patient has come in for care, they are already worried about what is wrong with them, along with how much treatment it will take and the costs of the visit and treatment. In short, they already have a lot to worry about. Don’t write them off or scoff at them. Ask about their symptoms and be understanding and empathetic when they describe what they think they have. Let them know you hear them.
Run the necessary tests and explain them.
When you need to draw blood, swab their mouth or sample urine, let them know which tests you are doing and what results they are testing for. Explain that it will rule out xyz so that together you can get to the bottom of their health concern.
Suggest that your patient avoid the virtual world of diagnosis.
Gently remind your patient that their symptoms could be caused by something completely different, and that they can’t believe everything they read online. Inspire them to visit their doctor’s office when needed instead of using digital diagnosis, or at least make sure they are using reputable sources when searching for answers online.
If they don’t believe your diagnosis, encourage them to seek a second opinion. Any reputable health provider will welcome a second opinion, because it should most likely be a confirmation of the original findings. In fact, second opinions from the Cleveland Clinic confirm the diagnosis 75 percent of the time. Encouraging the patient to get a second opinion instills trust and will put their mind at ease.