“We suspect that (health anxiety) is increasing in frequency because of what is now called ‘cyberchondria’,” Peter Tyrer, professor in community psychiatry at Imperial College London said during a press conference.
“This is because people now go to their GPs (general practitioners) with a whole list of things they’ve looked up on the internet, and the poor GP, five minutes into the consultation, has four pages of reading to do,” he added.
At least one in five people in Britain attend medical clinics because of “abnormal health anxiety,” researchers from Imperial College London and King’s College London said in their study.
Despite being told that there was no underlying physical reason for their symptoms, they often push for unnecessary further investigation — such as additional appointments or medical procedures.
When all added up, the cost to the healthcare system is estimated to be at around £56 million ($73 million, 61 million euros) a year.
To tackle the problem and help patients, the researchers advised using a cognitive behavioural therapy.
The treatment — already trialled on 444 patients in five different hospitals across England — lessened the condition from severe to moderate, with symptoms of anxiety and depression also improving.
“The costs of the treatment were more than offset by the savings to health services,” the study said.