An investigation of Cyberchondria in ‘The Age of Risk’

The importance of this paper arises in light of the increasing frequency for consumers to approach online sources about symptoms of illness, a process that has previously been described as 'Cyberchondria'. Critics are increasingly questioning the quality of interactive health information in 'The Age of Risk'. Research in this field is often concerned with a focus on the negatives of the Internet. This raises questions from sociological and feminist academics as to whether the Internet is a direct mediator of health and illness information, or whether there are other social and cultural factors involved which contribute to the risk of the ‘prosumer’. This paper approaches these problems discussing the importance of implementing software quality measures to control the potential negative effects of the information on those who are entering the information with a negative ‘lay epistemology’. Drawing on techniques of discourse analysis, qualitative data was collected in interviews concerning laypeople’s use of health and illness channels. This paper identifies the system that laypeople use in gathering knowledge from a number of sources in order to form their own ‘lay epistemology’. Using the method of ‘intersectionality’, cultural and socially constructed categories have been used in analysis. This paper suggests that although the Internet is a major source of information, there are decisions which the layperson makes prior to this approach which affect their discernment of their findings. This paper looks at how consumers differ in their interpretation of this information which aids academics in the development of systems to protect those groups that are vulnerable.