Those who have heard of hypochondria may wonder how it could get worse. People who suffer from this anxiety disorder are constantly worried about minor symptoms, often self-diagnosing small signs into conditions much worse than they are in reality. A rogue stomach pain could be stomach cancer; a headache means brain tumors, etc. While these are extreme examples, the gist generally holds true. Patients with hypochondria are always on the lookout for symptoms that could be much worse than they are.
Add the internet to that mix, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Cyberchondria is a phenomenon in which hypochondriacs use web resources to track their symptoms and diagnose themselves “more accurately.” Health information—from WebMD to studies published in scholarly journals and even personal health stories—is much more available now than ever before. People worried about their gas pains can simply type their symptoms into the search engine and receive a plethora of potential diagnoses.
Surprisingly enough, Microsoft was the first company to perform research on the effect the internet could have on people’s health fears. In 2008, their researchers looked into how the internet affects individuals with no medical training who use it to discover more about what ails them. Surveying over 500 participants regarding their health-related search habits and experiences, the researchers looked into how searches of common, likely harmless symptoms can increase patients’ medical concerns unnecessarily. The results show that users with a predisposition to think the worst about medical symptoms (hypochondriacs) along with “the presence of escalatory terminology” on medical information websites increases the number of people who think their medical condition is a lot worse than it is.
Cyberchondria is just one of the results of how the internet can overload us with information that we may not necessarily need. This can be bad for businesses that use the internet as a tool to reach new and existing customers. If your clients are looking for you on Google, but your website isn’t one of the first to appear on search engine results pages, you may be in need of some medical marketing search engine optimization. While customers know they’ll be inundated with search results from the web, they still want to be able to find you when they need you.
The web is teeming with sites all vying for your attention, and appropriate search engine marketing can be the key to usher interested clients in your direction. While cyberchondria and internet marketing are both results of the “age of the information,” we must be constantly evolving as internet consumers to ensure that we’re careful with what websites we take for truth and how we portray them through marketing.