Archive for December 4, 2008

Munchausen’s by Proxy Server?

From eFluxMedia:

Neurotic self-diagnosis is usually common among med students. They study the diseases carefully and take in every symptom and, before they know it, every headache is a brain tumor and every pimple is skin cancer. The same thing happens to anyone who reads all the possible symptoms of most given diseases.


Given that access to the Internet is now widely-available, people can get medical information much faster than before. Unfortunately, these people can also get wrong medical advice and incorrect information regarding anything from symptoms to treatments or to statistics. The problem with medical misinformation is that the result may be death.

A new term was thus coined, namely “cyberchondria”, describing the effect of extensive Web browsing for information on a disease or symptom and coming to the conclusion that their cough is a sign of typhoid fever. The problem with so much information available a click away is that people prefer to ask WebMD instead of their real doctor, a laziness which can have disastrous consequences.

Also, when people start searching their symptom, they don’t stop at attributing it to one of the more common diseases, but instead associate it with the most serious and rare conditions.

TechDirt reports:

Some researchers at Microsoft have been studying cyberchondria, the phenomenon of people searching the web for medical info, then concluding they’ve got some horrible disease or affliction. They conclude that “Web search engines have the potential to escalate medical concerns.” 

Indeed, according to a recent article in the New York Times, it appears that self-diagnosis by search engine regularly leads to concluding the worst about what ails us. It’s a widespread phenomenon — roughly 2% of all Web queries included in the study were health-related and almost a quarter of the people involved in the study engaged in a least one medical search. 

–And I’m willing to bet that we behave in much the same way when it comes to our pets.

There is a stunning amount of veterinary advice available free for the searching on the interwebs. And if there’s one thing we obsess about as much our own health… heck, in many cases more than our own health — it’s the health of our beloved pets. If the Microsoft study is an indication we are, in many cases, making mountains out of molehills.


So, if you do a web search after seeing that Rover suffers from flatulence and diarrhea you are much more likely to believe that he suffers from inflammatory bowel disease, chronic pancreatitis or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency than the much more benign (and far more common) dietary indiscretion – if articles on these much more serious and interesting diseases rank higher in your search results.

And (with apologies to our friends at Google) those nifty page ranks aren’t necessarily all they’re cracked up to be. The fact that a site on rare, debilitating diseases where people seek lots of support is more frequently linked and gets more hits than one about dogs that fart doesn’t mean that those are the diseases we are more likely to find. But — being human we tend to make a cum hoc ergo propter hoc  assumption; forget about the deviled eggs Binky stole off the counter yesterday and decide that he’s going to suffer from a debilitating disease for the rest of his life.

Binky (having now pooped the offending eggs out behind the sofa) feels great and wonders what all the fuss is about as you whisk him off to the vet for a full round of testing.

[interesting and somewhat creepy sidebar: there is a real factitious disorder referred to as Veterinary Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy]

December 4, 2008 at 4:05 am 9 comments

Because A Dog’s Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste


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December 2008