Online, you needn’t suffer alone

Chatrooms provide invaluable support for people with a wide range of illnesses.

It’s a familiar pattern, and it tends to go like this: doctor delivers diagnosis of (manageable) ailment. Patient leaves doctor’s surgery confident. Patient checks condition on the internet. In seconds, patient is convinced that death is imminent.

Knowledge is power, according to the adage, but when it comes to our health and the internet, power can be confusing. Anyone who has turned to the web for advice on a medical condition will know that that way madness lies. Instead of finding hard facts and much-needed reassurance, the unwary surfer can swiftly drown in a tidal wave of scaremongering.

But if you use it correctly, the web can offer not just information but a much more valuable currency for the newly ill or scared: companionship. Message boards (also called discussion forums) and live, real-time chatrooms are proving an invaluable source of support, information and advice for people with every kind of health problem. Most health charities now have one.

Keying the words “cancer forums” into Google yields more than two million responses. The Department of Health acknowledges that the increase in the number of chatrooms over the past few years has been “significant”. And Saga reports that health is one of the most popular message subjects among users of Saga Zone, its new social networking website for the overfifties.

But as well as offering practical and emotional support, these forums have developed into an empowering tool for patients. In some cases they can also affect the prescribing habits of doctors, inform research and bring top-level medical expertise together. They have become more than online confessionals: exchanges and tips on symptoms, treatments and side-effects fill their pages.“People sometimes become lost for words when they see their physician,” says Dr Shani Orgad, a lecturer in the department of media and communications at the London School of Economics, who has researched breast cancer forums.

Source - Times

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