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Cyberchondriac Cycle and Somatization paradigm.

CYBERCHONDRIA INFORMATION CLINIC (pop-up/educational symposium)

An education symposium was developed to aid internet users understand risk and dangers of solely trusting medical information online. The proposed Cyberchondria Information Clinic (CIC) is intended to guide visitors through a “misinformation journey” and take them on a self-discovery tour regarding the potential harms of the health-related information on the internet. The goal for the pop-up clinic/symposium, was to diagnose, inform, and treat people on the potential harms of the internet and cyberchondria. The clinic will consist of five rooms each intended to allow people to relate with this new medical lexicon while sharing their experience.

The exhibition was held at Prime Produce on 424 W 54th street, New York, New York, USA on Tuesday, November 27, 2018.The floor plan of the exhibition, shown below, was selected based on information in the user flow and the journey stages/goals identified in the chart. Each of the rooms in the CIC served a particular purpose for its goal!

 
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Cyberchondriac Cycle disrupted by the CIC Symposium.


HEALTH RESEARCH EXTENSION (HEAR)

Developed an add-on feature to a search engine that is able to disrupt, mask, change or understate the information provided online about health-related subjects and guides users to medical professionals outside of the internet.  A search engine filtering tool was developed for Google Chrome © extension using Sublime Text ©, proprietary cross-platform source code editor with a Python © application programming interface (API). The extension is provided as an add-on feature and was named “HEAlth Research” or HEAR extension. The Google Chrome © extension is available to users on the Chrome Web Extensions Store.

Originally, users are already googling instructions to feel better, looking for shortcuts and answers to their symptoms and ailments, obeying and believing the information provided. When a user installs HEAR into their Google Chrome © browser, the most commonly used words in medical websites are replaced by “calls to action” such as “do not google, call a doctor, go to your primary care physician, find a specialist now, stop, meditate,” among others. All of these commands are intended to guide the user outside of the internet and search for help offline while warning them about possible miscommunication regarding an ailment the user believes to suffer from. This process stages an intervention within the searching cycle inviting the user to obey the commands, or "calls to action," to AVOID SELF-DIAGNOSING, AND SELF-MEDICATION.

Testers have expressed surprise when using the extension given that they were unaware that HEAR disrupted not only the titles and headers of the initial google search but also the content of every website displayed. Several users described the extension as “online graffiti” alluding to the idea that the extension was defacing the original pages and adding new information to the sites. Received positive criticism regarding the Google Chrome © Extension coded and displayed on Demo Day. The majority of testers commented and emphasized how useful HEAR was whenever there was a chance of falling down the ‘rabbit hole’ of anxious searching.

 

…click HEAR to download the extension!

 

examples of the extension ON and OFF:

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Cyberchondriac Cycle disrupted by the HEAR Extension and CIC Symposium.


 

Ultimately, cyberchondria and somatization are complex disorders with psychological and neurological underpinnings, that ultimately then translate into physical symptoms. We can assume from all information that to treat somatization and cyberchondria, all aspects must be addressed. Understanding the symptomatology and causes of the disorders is important, and knowing that rumination, excessive online searching, medical related websites, forums, blogs, and anxiety are all involved can help us treat it with medication, possibly. However, living in an information age that is constantly developing, medication is not enough to treat it. Studies with exercise, relaxation, CBT and behavioral treatment show that the disorder will have to be treated with cognitive and behavioral approaches. CIC proved these type of symposiums work, they can change perspectives on how people view topics or arguments. Educating on what cyberchondria and somatization mean, on the usage of technology, and information about health, will minimize the possibility of suffering anxiety. Nevertheless, as well established in my study, it is a technological intervention what needs to be done to properly break the cyberchondriac cycle.

 

cyberchondria information clinic (CIC) & Hear extension

Media and communications based solution (CIC) // Technology based solution (HEAR)

Cyberchondria, a term that has entered the medical lexicon in the 21st century after the advent of the internet, refers to the unfounded escalation of people’s concerns about their symptomatology based on search results and literature online. ‘Cyberchondriacs’ experience mistrust of medical experts, compulsion, reassurance seeking, and excessiveness.  Their excessive online research about health can also be associated with unnecessary medical expenses, which primarily arise from anxiety, increased psychological distress, and worry.

Individuals suffering from cyberchondria may somatize their new symptoms or worsen their previous condition, which leads to a need for treatment by medical professionals. Thus, a potential causal relationship can be established between cyberchondria and somatization

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To answer the concerns above, my methods emphasized two types of prototypes:

Media and communication-based solution: immersive educational pop-up installation (CIC)

Technology-based solution: search engine web application (HEAR)

Here I explain these two technology and communication-based solutions made by me. Like any psychiatric disorder, it is important to consult with a mental health specialist and seek help from reputable sources. Internet solutions are not the way to solve somatic disorders. Thus, these proposed solutions primarily focus on disrupting the cyberchondriac cycle not at the disorder level, but at the technology and education level.