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Understanding ‘cyberchondria’: an interpretive phenomenological analysis of the purpose, methods and impact of seeking health information online for those with health anxiety

  • Freda McManus (a1) (a2), Christie Leung (a1), Kate Muse (a1) and J. Mark G. Williams (a1)
Abstract

‘Cyberchondria’ describes the phenomenon of searching for health information online exacerbating health anxiety. This study explores health anxious individuals’ experiences of searching for health information online to further understand ‘cyberchondria’. Semi-structured interviews were used to explore participants’ (N = 8) experiences of searching for health information online. Transcripts were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Four themes emerged: ‘information is power’, ‘novelty of Internet searching’, ‘need for strategies to navigate the search: Google, authority and cross-checking’, and ‘cyberchondria: short-term gain but long-term pain’. Participants’ accounts suggested they sought health information online as a form of problem solving: to understand their problem and decide on a strategy for solving it, to feel better about having the problem by having ‘done something’ about it, or to share others’ similar experiences. Seeking online health information was prompted by negative expectations of healthcare professionals, yet was not seen as a replacement for medical consultations. Participants noted the accessibility of the Internet and were aware that information is sometimes inaccurate or irrelevant. Thus participants used strategies to filter and validate information. The findings are considered in relation to what they tell us about the purpose, methods and impact of seeking health information online among individuals with health anxiety.

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Corresponding author
*Author for correspondence: Dr F. McManus, University of Oxford, Department of Psychiatry, Warneford Hospital, Oxford OX3 7JX, UK (email: f.v.mcmanus@stir.ac.uk).
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