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Friday, 13 April, 2001, 23:13 GMT 00:13 UK
'Cyberchondria' hits web users
Internet user
Patients are using the internet for self-diagnosis
Doctors are being faced with a brand new condition - "cyberchondria" or "internet print out syndrome".

Patients are now using the internet to find out more about their illnesses, but often mis-diagnose symptoms or stumble across quack cures.

GP surgeries and hospitals across the country are struggling under a mountain of paperwork as patients down-load information about their conditions and demand the most up-to-date treatment.

There have even been cases of patients using the internet to get attention for imagined medical conditions.


The concept of cyberchondria is that the person looks up their symptoms and then self-diagnoses themselves

Dr Trefor Roscoe, a GP in Sheffield

A University of Alabama study showed some people with Munchausen syndrome had been logging on to internet chat rooms and claiming illness, rape or assault in an attempt to get an audience for their claims.

Dr Trefor Roscoe, a GP and computer expert in Sheffield, said doctors were being inundated by patients with "cyberchondria".

"The concept of cyberchondria is that the person looks up their symptoms and then self-diagnoses themselves.

"The main problem for the GP is the time it takes up.

"GPs are getting these people a couple of times a month and it is going to become more common as the internet access increases."

Using the net

But Dr Roscoe said doctors must face up to the same internet literate world inhabited by their patients.

"I no longer think we can say we should not be doing it.

"I think all doctors need to understand the net and the pitfalls so they can appear to be half knowledgeable and know where to send people for advice."

Dr Adrian Midgley
Dr Adrian Midgley said the internet could be a valuable tool

GP Dr Adrian Midgley, in Exeter told BBC News Online, that his practice relied heavily on the net for information.

He said he never discouraged patients from bringing information to him and often they left clutching armfuls of paper that he had down-loaded for them.

He said: "I do think it is useful for doctors to become computer literate.

If a patient comes in to me with a particular condition, or there is something about an illness on the news, if I think patients would want to know more about it then I will put it on my site so that patients can look at it."

But he admitted there would always be patients who misused the net.

"The people who do that are the people we would have otherwise got coming in saying that a friend had told them something about their symptoms while they were at their hairdressers."

Mike Stone, of the Patients Association, said patients must use the web sites carefully because they could foster false hopes.

He said: "It is a double-edged sword. Unfortunately some patients have their expectations heightened because some web sites offer drugs and treatments that are only available in the United States.

"But there is the other side to this that patients can use it to get information about their ailments.

"It is all about using the internet safely."

See also:

17 Dec 00 | Health
11 Aug 00 | Health
05 May 00 | Health
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