Cyberchondria, or compucondria, happens when people grow increasingly worried about their health as they consume online medical health information. When their symptoms are similar to that of other diseases, they can be led to believe that they are suffering from serious illnesses.
Listen to what our CEO Tristan Hahner has to say about cyberchondria and how it is always prudent to consult a doctor when you feel unwell.
If you happen to not be able to listen to the Money FM 89.3 podcast with DoctorxDentist on cyberchondria, we have transcribed the interview for you below.
Claressa: Good afternoon and welcome to Health Suites on Money FM 89.3! Today, I speak to Tristan Hahner, co-founder of DoctorxDentist, about his platform, the trends and insights related to cyberchondria among Singaporeans and the risks of relying on unverified online information for medical diagnosis. Welcome to the show, Tristan. I think the first thing we need you to do for us is to explain cyberchondria.
Tristan: Hi Claressa, thanks so much for having me! Cyberchondria is the worry of having a serious medical condition after reading about it online. I am not a doctor or psychiatrist, so I can't really tell you about cyberchondria in detail or about the mental health effects it would have. But let me briefly talk about other effects that it has on healthcare. Medical information online nowadays is kept very general so that it is applicable to as many people as possible. But that is part of the problem. If medical information online is very general, then it is up to the user to qualify and even in a way to diagnose himself. For example, drowsiness can quickly become chronic fatigue or a headache becomes a brain tumour. The feedback that we got from the doctors whom we work with is that they struggle in their practice when they are confronted with mistrust in their diagnosis because people have read something else online. In a way, they think they have understood the whole problem already because they have researched online. That's a real problem for them right now and they worry that it might get worse in future.
Claressa: Ok, I'm starting to understand. It sounds like cyberchondria is the online version or the internet relative of hyperchondria where you get a little bit of information and you think you are ill with a bad disease or a critical disease when you just maybe have one of the symptoms, but you think you are sicker than you are. I think I'm starting to get it. I do speak to a lot of doctors and a lot of them refer to patients who will consult "Doctor Google", for example. And the problem you have highlighted they have told me about as well. Because if you're talking about cancer, if we're talking about heart disease, their patients - once they are diagnosed - will go and read something on the net about it and perhaps it's not good news that they are reading or it's about alternative treatments that they are reading and they expect their doctors to respond to that when it's not necessarily the best course of treatment for them.
Tristan: Exactly. They may even want them to do unnecessary tests, and those tests can go in the thousands - we're talking about CT scans, for example - that is a problem that doctors have to face nowadays.
Claressa: So there is a balance, isn't there? Because we are more educated in the sense that we have more direct access to information than, say, our grandparents did. We can go online, we can search it, but then, what are we searching and are we getting the right information? Because you can get good information on the net, but you can also get a lot of information that will give you the wrong idea, the wrong information. So what is the danger of this reliance on the information that is found on the web, particularly about medical products?
Tristan: Let me talk about medical information very briefly. Medical information is very, very sensitive, and that is the uniqueness about it. That's why we have to treat medical information different online than we treat other online information. Most of the information on the internet when it comes to medical information is not written or verified by a doctor. For the laymen, it is very hard to verify if the information is correct or trustworthy. It can be detrimental to patients if they rely on such unverified information. For example, they could undergo treatments that have no effect, or the effect may produce unwanted outcomes or may even hurt their health. Our doctors bring this to our attention regularly because they feel that it's becoming an emerging problem.
Claressa: Ok, let's talk about DoctorxDentist now. How will that help to relieve people of cyberchondria when they want to search for medical information.
Tristan: Different from what users can find on the internet, in general, all the information found on DoctorxDentist is written or reviewed by licensed medical doctors from Singapore. Many of them are specialists in their profession. Doctors are really, really brilliant when it comes to addressing concerns from patients and explaining things in a way that everybody can understand because they do it on a daily basis. On DoctorxDentist, they are answering questions from users and they are ensuring that all the information provided is correct and not unnecessarily worrying the patient. And also, on the other hand, in case a condition or symptom needs to be addressed, they know which specialist or doctor to recommend. But also, at this point, I want to clarify that DoctorxDentist is not a provider of telemedicine. So all the information on DoctorxDentist is still general and not a diagnosis that the doctors offer on DoctorxDentist. But rather, our doctors highlight that there is always the need for a physical examination before making a diagnosis.
Claressa: Sure. So I'm thinking that DoctorxDentist is what we can call a reliable resource -- it's information that we can trust from doctors. It doesn't mean you don't have to go to a doctor; if you are going to a doctor and you want a little better understanding, perhaps, of your condition or what your doctor was talking about, you can go to DoctorxDentist. Is that correct?
Tristan: Yes. that's correct. They are not providing a diagnosis based on your symptoms, but rather, it helps you to better understand certain conditions, or better understand when to seek help and where to seek help.
Claressa: I think that that is a very useful resource because even as a patient myself, what does happen is, when I'm in front of my doctor, I don't think of all the questions I want to ask him. And then I go home and I go, "I should have asked him that. I should have asked him this." So if there is a reliable resource online that I can go to that is vetted by doctors, then perhaps that's where I might get some of my answers.
Tristan: Exactly. The problem is that when you're in a consultation, you might not think of all the questions. But also, the doctors are very busy - I mean, if you look at doctors in public, they have to see 60+ patients every day, so they really don't have the time to explain to you in detail and every aspect.
Claressa: Ok. Now tell us, now that we have a better understanding of DoctorxDentist. Tell us what's the inspiration into developing it. Why did you do it?
Tristan: Actually, I want to share a very specific inspiration because it's an interesting analogy. Our team and I love Quora. It's a Q&A portal. It's actually one of the few portals that work very well and (its content is) 100% user-generated. And still, they keep the quality high in most areas. Of course, I cannot use or trust Quora when it comes to medical information, so this is part of the inspiration, actually, because medical information is too sensitive and needs different process than Quora has in order to provide 100% trustworthy and factual information. So that is why DoctorxDentist kind of sees itself as the Quora for health and we aim to grow to become the biggest and most credible health website in the world.
Claressa: That's actually interesting to me because I do actually refer to Quora sometimes to see what people are thinking on certain subjects - maybe baseball or football or things I don't know very well. It is a good starting point for me to do my research. So it's interesting that that inspired DoctorxDentist. And you're right - you can't go to Quora as your only resource for medical questions because you don't necessarily know if they are experts or not in that field. So that's where you step in.
Tristan: Exactly. They are not verified experts on Quora. I mean, they could even claim that they are something they are not. On DoctorxDentist, all doctors are verified; they have licenses in Singapore from the Singapore Medical Council.
Claressa: Ok, we're speaking to Tristan Hahner, co-founder at DxD: all about his platform, the trends and insights related to cyberchondria among Singaporeans. Now, this is very interesting to me. It sounds like it's an interesting portal. If somebody wants access to it, how do they get it?
Tristan: DoctorxDentist can be freely accessed by typing into Google doctorxdentist.com and you will have a live chat that you can use for free.
Claressa: Do you have to join? Is there a membership? Is there a subscription?
Tristan: Actually, you don't have to join. If you want to ask a question, you can just post it on the live chat and we will get a doctor to answer it.
Claressa: And there is no subscription?
Tristan: No, it's free and it is going to stay free forever.
Claressa: Well, how do you monetise it then?!
Tristan: Of course, this is always the question - How a platform like this can be sustainable. Actually, that is one of the challenges that we faced because we are not paying doctors to be on our platform. Of course, it gives us a hard time sometimes to make them understand how they can benefit from it. So we go to the doctors and we explain that they can amplify their time and make more use of it if they educate the public on our platform. And of course, it also benefits their own PR as they will be in the spotlight when they answer questions on our platform.
Claressa: I'm getting it. You don't have to join, there is no subscription and you can post a question and it might be answered by a doctor.
Tristan: It might be answered by a GP or a specialist in the respective fields. We don't send out the questions randomly to all our doctors because they are specialists. Some of them are specialists even on a certain procedure or on a certain treatment. For example, if you have a question about knee pain, there might be answers coming from sport medicine specialists, from orthopaedic surgeons - literally from many kinds of specialists. Even a GP might be able to answer that.
Claressa: So if you are interested in, and you have a question, and you want to find it, search "DoctorxDentist". Now let's talk about the challenges that you faced as you were developing DoctorxDentist. I'm sure that I can think of a few but I'd like to hear it from you.
Tristan: Honestly, -- I think I've tapped on one of the challenges already -- it's very hard to explain to doctors the many misconceptions when we onboard them. Many of them are from the older generations, they don't necessarily know all the new apps in healthcare nowadays and the challenges with untrustworthy online information. So this is giving us a hard time but we are confident that we're up for it.
Claressa: Alright. We wish you all the best with it. It sounds like something that I would actually look at as a resource as I'm searching and researching for Health Suites. Tristan Hahner, co-founder of DoctorxDentist, thank you so much for coming in and talking to us today on Health Suites on Money FM 89.3.
-End of Interview-