People Are Relying on the Internet for a Covid19 Diagnosis. But Dr. Google Is Often Wrong, Study Finds


May 25, 2020


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The Internet has changed the way we seek healthcare — what used to be a one-way information exchange flowing from the healthcare professional to the patient has now turned into an exercise in frenzied googling, sans medical experts. Dr. Google, however, is wrong most of the time — 74% to be exact, a study of popular diagnostic websites and apps out of Australia finds. “While it may be tempting to use these tools to find out what may be causing your symptoms, most of the time they are unreliable at best and can be dangerous at worst,” study author Michella Hill, of Australia’s Edith Cowan University (ECU), says in a statement

The Covid19 pandemic has exacerbated the Dr. Google phenomenon. Scientists still haven’t been able to nail down a concrete set of symptoms associated with being infected with the coronavirus — every other week, rumors about foot rashes, or loss of different senses (such as smell), being possible symptoms populate scientific journals and news articles, further worsening confusion, and as a result, apprehension, about having Covid19. In the absence of widespread testing, including that of asymptomatic people, this fear runs rampant, contributing to a phenomenon called cyberchondria.

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“A number of people who are overly distressed or anxious about their health perform excessive or repeated health-related searches on the internet, only to become more distressed or frightened, which we define as cyberchondria,” Dr. Ishanya Raj, a psychologist at Allahabad’s Moti Lal Nehru Medical College, tells Times of India. This is in line with the running joke — anyone can be convinced they have cancer if they spend enough time on WebMD. The problem arises when this cyberchondria, which Dr. Raj says is slowly becoming ubiquitous amidst the coronavirus pandemic, can lead to stress, resulting in spikes in blood pressure, headaches, and a weakened immune system. 

Under normal circumstances, the advice to combat cyberchondria resulting from the Dr. Google phenomenon would either be to better regulate these symptom-checking websites and apps, or to encourage people to be more responsible about seeking diagnoses. But the Covid19 pandemic has upended normalcy — people are rightfully scared, while also increasingly becoming frustrated with being under lockdown. In such a scenario, widespread testing is the only avenue that can combat this cyberchondria, not only to allay the fears of the public, but also to effectively assess the impact of, and tackle, the coronavirus pandemic.


Written By Rajvi Desai

Rajvi Desai is The Swaddle’s Culture Editor. After graduating from NYU as a Journalism and Politics major, she covered breaking news and politics in New York City, and dabbled in design and entertainment journalism. Back in the homeland, she’s interested in tackling beauty, sports, politics and human rights in her gender-focused writing, while also co-managing The Swaddle Team’s podcast, Respectfully Disagree.


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