Easy Access to Internet Risks Turning Us into a Nation of 'Cyber-Chondriacs' Warn Medics

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Byline: By Madeleine Brindley Western Mail

Welsh adults are in danger of becoming ill-informed hypochondriacs as they increasingly turn to the internet for answers to questions about their health, it is claimed.

New research suggests that two-thirds of people with access to the internet in Wales are using it to find health information.

And even those who can't log on at home or work - one in five people - are asking friends or family to carry out health-related searches for them.

But doctors have warned that the internet could turn Wales into a nation of 'cyber-chondriacs' by bombarding us with too much health information.

Informing Healthcare, a Welsh Assembly Government-funded programme which carried out the research, said it was vital that the NHS of the future makes reliable and trustworthy health information available on the internet.

Dr Daniel Warm, Informing Healthcare's research and evaluation manager, said, 'It is clear that the majority of the Welsh population has access to the internet and that a growing proportion of adults are using websites to source information on all aspects of health.

'The survey findings suggest that there is considerable demand within Wales for health information online.

'It is essential that Designed for Life - the 10 year strategy for health and social care - fosters initiatives that complement people's chosen method for participating in the creation of a healthier nation.'

The research for Informing Healthcare, undertaken by PricewaterhouseCoopers, found that women, under 45 and living in South Wales, were most likely to use the internet to find out more about health issues.

People living in North Wales, and aged 65 and over, were most likely to ask someone else to carry out an internet health search.

Some of the most common searches were for information about drugs, prescriptions, pregnancy, childbirth, children's health and public health alerts.

And almost one in five people questioned said they used the internet to search for details about NHS services in Wales.

But despite the emergence of the internet as a do-it-yourself health information source, doctors have warned that people should be wary about the range of information on offer, as some can be misleading and others even wrong.

Dr Ian Millington, secretary of Morgannwg Local Medical Committee, said, 'There is a risk that patients may get poor or inappropriate information from certain internet sites. Health information is only of real value if it is from a quality-assured database.

'Patients can end up with masses of information that they cannot understand - so-called cyber-chondriacs - and they can take up large amounts of health professionals' time in seeking clarification of the information and its implications. …