[Below is the original script. But a few changes may have been made during the recording of this audio podcast.]
Imagine this: you find a strange rash on your arm, scratch it, then decide to visit Dr. Google, and within three mouse clicks, waves of anxiety reverberate through your body because you're certain you have skin cancer..
Actually, you now have stress—because of self-diagnosis via the nearly limitless health information online.
Now Microsoft has completed the first formal study of health-related Web searches, and the rise of so-called cyberchondria: the distress caused by searching innocuous symptoms, and finding links that then quickly lead to extreme conclusions.
Studying the search behavior of about a million users, Microsoft researchers found that a search for chest pain would more likely lead to a link for the worst-case scenario like heart attack, than to the more mundane, "indigestion." Because of the popularity of "heart attack" links, those are typically the ones that come up near the top of search results.
The study shows that the anxiety from the initial search persists, as the user follows with multiple searches for serious illnesses, and goes through at least one significant interruption at work.
The authors advise Microsoft to develop a new Web search tool that makes initial health searches more accurate. So that Dr. Google stops scaring his patients.