An Examination of the Effects of Health-related Internet Use in Individuals With Pathological Health Anxiety

J

Johannes Gutenberg University (JGU)

Status

Unknown

Conditions

Hypochondriasis

Treatments

Behavioral: Health- and illness-related internet use

Study type

Interventional

Funder types

Other

Identifiers

NCT03024593
C1-L

Details and patient eligibility

About

The purpose of the current study is to examine the effects of health-related internet use on affect, health anxiety and symptom severity in individuals with pathological levels of health anxiety. The present randomized controlled study compares an online medical searching condition with a waiting (i.e. non-searching) condition to manipulate the attentional focus. After an induction of health anxiety using the Autobiographical Emotional Memory Task the participants in the searching condition go online and search for subjectively relevant health information (external focus of attention). Individuals in the waiting (i.e. non-searching) condition are requested to do nothing and not to distract themselves (internal focus of attention).

Full description

The internet is a popular method for obtaining information. Increasingly, it is also used to answer medical and health related questions, because compared to other methods (e.g. going to the library or visiting a doctor) it has a number of advantages to offer like low costs, availability, easy accessibility, anonymity, and great diversity of information types and sources. 60 to 80 percent of internet users search online for medical information. In this context the term "cyberchondria" was coined in the media to describe the potentially detrimental effects of this behavior. The first studies in this field using self-report retrospective data showed that individuals with elevated levels of health anxiety seem to make increased use of the internet for this purpose and it seems to maintain health anxiety in the long-term. However, up until today little is known about the consequences of this behavior and the maintaining mechanism. This randomized controlled experimental study investigates the effects of health-related internet use on affect, symptom severity and health anxiety in individuals with pathological health anxiety. Participants will first undergo a baseline assessment. After that health anxiety is induced using the Autobiographical Emotional Memory Task and participants complete another assessment. Then participants are randomly assigned to either an online medical searching condition (experimental group, EG) or a non-searching condition (control group, CG) to manipulate attentional focus. The EG is requested to search online for health information (external focus of attention), the CG is requested to do nothing and not to distract themselves (internal focus of attention). Then another assessment is completed and the treatment groups are compared regarding the effects on affect, symptom severity and health anxiety. Besides examining these effects a further aim of this study is to identify the underlying mechanism. Two possibilities are supposed: a) An increase of the variables of interest due to health-related information or b) a decrease due to externalization.

Enrollment

80 estimated patients

Sex

All

Ages

18+ years old

Volunteers

No Healthy Volunteers

Inclusion criteria

  • Pathological health anxiety according to the criteria of Fink et al. (2004)
  • Informed consent
  • Sufficient German language skills
  • Sufficient skills using a computer, a smartphone and the internet

Exclusion criteria

  • Suicidal tendency
  • Clinical diagnosis of alcohol or drug abuse, acute schizophrenia
  • Organic brain disorders
  • Impairment of intelligence

Trial design

80 participants in 2 patient groups

Searching condition
Experimental group
Description:
To simulate participants' natural behavior they are requested to search online for personally relevant health or illness information in their usual manner. By doing so their attentional focus lies on the searching process and the information they obtain.
Treatment:
Behavioral: Health- and illness-related internet use
Waiting condition (i.e. non- searching, no distraction)
No Intervention group
Description:
Participants are requested to do nothing and not to distract themselves by reading or using their smartphone for instance. By doing so, it is expected that their attentional focus lies on their induced worries and symptoms.

Trial contacts and locations

0

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Central trial contact

Sandra K Hamann, Dipl.-Psych.

Data sourced from clinicaltrials.gov

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