What Happens When Patients Turn to ‘Doctor Google’

April 27, 2023

Once upon a time, when patients had questions regarding their health, the first people they would turn to were their doctors. Today, however, that is far from the case. Rather than seek answers from a human GP, more people look to “Doctor Google,” a fact that worries many practitioners.

According to one study, 89% of U.S. citizens turn to Google for answers before asking their doctors. Another study estimated that about 70,000 searches for health information occur on Google every minute. While the accuracy of the results those searches yield varies, the majority of searchers were left more questions — and worries — than answers. In fact, an increasing number of people feel more anxiety and fear after looking up medical information online, a condition known as “’cyberchondria.”

Cyberchondria is a real concern

A play on the word “hypochondria,” cyberchondria refers to increased feelings of fear and anxiety that are the result of trying to self-diagnose health issues online. Though a new problem, the proliferation of smartphones and high-speed internet make cyberchondria an increasingly common issue. The sheer amount of health-related information available online does not help, either.

For instance, a search for “cough” on WebMD’s symptom checker yields more than 50 results. Those results range in severity from the everyday cold to types of cancer. Even seemingly innocent symptoms such as “toe numbness” or “ringing in the ears” can offer dire results. Many people go into these searches with mild interest and come out of them with exaggerated fears about their mortality.

The biggest consequence of cyberchondria is the toll it takes on patients’ mental health. However, it is also a costly issue for the U.S. healthcare system, costing about $73 million each year.

Make patient education part of your online patient marketing

For people not prone to cyberchondria, accessing health information online actually produces better health outcomes. A Pew survey found that patients who educated themselves on health topics before visiting a doctor were more likely to seek professional care than those who ignored issues until more aggressive symptoms developed. More than half of respondents of another survey said they had more confidence in their GPs after conducting an online search.

The bottom line is, online health information can help with patient retention and acquisition. However, it is important that your patients access the right information, which is why you should make it your job to point them in the right direction. While you cannot control what new and existing patients might read on the internet, you can provide pointers to guide their searches:

  • Seek information from sites that end in .gov, .edu or, .org.
  • Verify the authors and contributors are experts in the topic
  • Check the date of the publication
  • Steer clear of any sites that promise cures

Finally, encourage your patients and website visitors to always seek the opinion of an actual medical professional. Google may be a good starting point, but one should never turn to it for a final verdict.

Invest in proper patient education

Prospective and existing patients are turning to Doctor Google first whether you like it or not. The best thing you can do to combat the spread of inaccurate information is to put your own information out there. Work with Doctor Genius to get started. Call us at 1-877-477-2311 today.

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