Concerns raised after Google fuelled hypochondria searches skyrocket

Concerns that the internet is fuelling hypochondria have been raised after research revealed searches for serious health conditions have increased by thousands of percentage points over the last three years.

UK search volumes for terms such as ‘how to know chest pains are serious’ have risen by 8,781 per cent from 2015 to 2018, analysis of Google data has found.

And searches for keywords such as ‘sciatica’, ‘acne’ and ‘IBS’ plus ‘treatment’ are now searched over 100,000 times on average every year since 2015.

‘Stomach ache’ and ‘aching legs’ were also found to top online searches, with an average of 115,800 and 151,075 searches yearly since 2015.

‘GP near me’ was googled 500,000 times between January and August alone this year.

Hannah Sims, Product Manager for Perkbox Medical, which commissioned the research, said: “The NHS has been looking after the health of the nation for 70 years now.

“It’s a wonderful system, but it isn’t without its challenges, particularly in primary care.

“Currently, over one million people a week in the UK struggle to get themselves seen by a doctor when they need it.

“GP surgeries tend to only be open during the usual working hours and are stretched to fit everyone in, pushing appointment waiting times to around two weeks.

“Similarly, the average health insurance premium in the UK costs £1,400.

“On top of that, there’s the admin involved with sorting it all out – wading through pages of jargon, comparing different, often confusing policies, conducting a full census of your staff and making big decisions about what you can and can’t afford to cover.

“It’s not an easy world to navigate in, and it’s no wonder busy employers and HR leaders back away.”

The research also found that the number of Brits self-diagnosing themselves using Google is on the rise.

‘How to know if chest pains are serious?’ was among the most searched terms with 14,210 average searches from January – August this year.

‘How to get rid of back pain?’ received 12,800 average searches in the same period, and ‘how to get rid of stomach pain?’ garnered 18,200 average searches.

Sims added: “Many of these symptoms account for key causes of absenteeism at work, which costs the UK economy £77billion per year.

“And it makes sense, when waiting times are often long and employers aren’t financially able to provide their staff with an alternative route to see a doctor, people naturally look for a quick fix solution, googling their symptoms and getting some rest from home, or, worse, falling victims to ‘presenteeism’ at work.

“Perkbox Medical is the first private healthcare product designed to focus specifically on the areas where the NHS is particularly challenged – the most obvious one being primary care (GP appointment, prescription and referral).”

“It’s an affordable solution that is tiered, making at least some level of health cover available to every UK business and giving employers an extra layer of flexibility.”

  • Mat is a writer with an interest in public opinion research. He has a passion for stories covering lifestyle, travel and technology.

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