Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Microsoft searches for solution to Cyberchondria

The inquirer says web surfers are all a bunch of Cyberchondriacs (according to Microsoft), which published the results of a study on health-related Internet search yesterday. The study, which looked at searches on popular search engines and at Volish employee searches, reckons those who look to the Internet for self diagnosis, often end up clinging to the worst case scenario about what may be wrong with them, in other words, Cyberchondria.

Volish boffins are now prescribing features for Mighty-Soft’s search service which could help put such medical queries into context and retrieve less dire results.

Eric Horvitz, an artificial intelligence researcher at the Redmond Giant’s Research labs, told the New York Times, "People tend to look at just the first couple results," explaining "If they find 'brain tumor' or 'ALS', that’s their launching point."

Horovitz and his colleagues found that searching for terms like 'headache' and 'chest pain' were likely to bring up terrifying results with the same frequency as less serious ailments, even though the chances of having a brain tumour or tuberculosis were ridiculously small compared to just suffering from a caffeine overdose or having a bad cough.

The research also found that at least two per cent of all Web searches were health related and about 250,000 of the million people polled admitted to having searched at least once for something medical whilst in the study. A third of these went on to say they had then "escalated" their search to more serious illnesses they thought they may have as a result of the first search results.

Looking for any excuse to pull a sickie, half of the 500 Microsoft employees polled admitted to performing medical searches whilst at work.

Horovitz noted that it would soon be possible to make search engines which were capable of offering advice rather than scaring the bejesus out of people, modeled on a health advisory system for pregnancy and child care built in the 1990s by another team of Volish boffins.

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