Robin S.: A marriage made in heaven

The following is a reader take by Robin S.

“Dr. Google, meet Ms. Cyberchondriac. Ms. Cyberchondriac, meet Dr. Google.” Just about every physician reading this is nodding his/her head. They know what I’m talking about.

Just what is a cyberchondriac? My spell-check in Microsoft Word says it is not a word. Funny, though, it doesn’t say that with “Google” as long as I capitalize it. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary cyberchondria is ““ wait a minute ““ it’s not in the dictionary. So why am I reading it so much in the media where it is the technical equivalent of “hypochondria”?

“Cyberchondria” no longer has the negative connotations it once had, according to the Harris Polls. As early as 2002, the Harris Interactive Health Care News reported the idiom, defining it as “people who use the Internet for health or health care”. I don’t think many of the media correspondents have read that newsletter or a poll done last year which said the number of adults who had gone online to search for health information had reached 160 million.

How do you reckon these folks actually find their information online? Why, with Dr. Google, of course! (Can’t you see the picture Google could use on their search site? Each “o” could become part of the Harry Potter look-alike glasses.) “Googling” IS found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as a form of the verb “to google“. Search engine technology and the myriad of excellent health care sites on the web are Dr. Google’s dream-come-true. Oh,’scuse me Ms. Cyberchondriac. You are his dream-come-true. He loves the way you surf the web.

Informed consumerism is not anything new. I grew up with medical encyclopedias and drug references included in the many tomes lining the walls of our home library. If we didn’t have it at home, we went to the public library. My mother utilized the library’s option of “borrowing” from one of the major university libraries for further information. My parents believed (and still believe) a smart person is an informed person.

Current health plan providers agree with my parents. They are encouraging patients to become more informed and many offer health information. At the beginning of this century the CMO of Blue Cross, Dr. Bill Gold, told Business Wire (BNET), “Consumers are playing a greater role in managing their own healthcare options. It is our job to”¦ provide information to consumers that will make them better partners with their physician and their health plan.”

The National Library of Medicine has jumped on the same bandwagon, offering websites such as MedlinePlus and NIH Senior Health for patients interested in becoming more educated. Vanderbilt University Medical Center offers the Eskind Biomedical Library. In Riding the waves of change together: are we all paying attention?, the director of Eskind, Dr. Nunzia Giuse, says, “Factors such as evidence-based medicine and the movement toward active patient participation in health care are among the recent trends that libraries have been able to anticipate and proactively move to address by developing new expertise.”

This leads to a question the medical industry needs to be asking itself: “Will medical schools teach future physicians how to deal with an educated consumer?”

This marriage is here to stay. There is no divorce predicted for the future. The aforementioned 2007 Harris poll predicts the number of “cyberchondriacs” will increase and patients will be more informed, which will have a profound impact on health care “changing the doctor-patient relationship and the practice of medicine.”

As a consumer, I wish a long and happy marriage for Dr. Google and Ms. Cyberchondriac. I wonder what their progeny will look like.

Robin S. blogs at survive the journey.