Diagnosis: cyberchondria? Over half of EU citizens seek health information online

·2-min read
Searching the web for symptoms can lead to cyberchondria.

Faced with mild symptoms, EU citizens are increasingly inclined to search for their diagnosis directly on Google, before even seeing a doctor. According to a Eurostat study, more than half of Europeans turn to the internet to seek online health information related to injury, disease, nutrition, improving health or similar subjects.

Has going to the doctor become outdated? Faced with the appearance of minor symptoms such as skin rashes, injuries or headaches, EU citizens are increasingly turning to a search engine to find the origins of their ailments. According to a survey conducted by Eurostat, 55% of Europeans admit to seeking this kind of health information online. In Finland, this rate even reaches 80%. The Netherlands follows with 77%, and Denmark with 75%.

"Over the last decade, the share of individuals seeking health information online has risen in almost all EU Member States with an increase of 17 percentage points in the EU from 2011 (38%)," the study states.

But searching for symptoms on the internet isn't always reassuring. On the contrary, it can create stress and anxiety when faced with the alarmist results found online. As such, the notion of cyberchondria has emerged, based on the term 'hypochondria,' describing people who have an unreasonable fear of being affected by serious diseases.

What's the diagnosis?

Yet, according to a study conducted by Harvard University in 2021 , searching for symptoms on the internet may not be as anxiety-inducing as we might think. "The internet may not be so harmful after all," say the researchers. After interviewing and monitoring some 5,000 participants, they noted that the diagnoses proposed by the search engines brought modest improvements in diagnostic accuracy and led to no real change in anxiety.

Still, when symptoms appear, it is safer to consult a medical professional, either in person or at least online.

Louis Tardy

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