Web MD: Fueling our inner hypochondriac since 1999

Jeremy Smith
Feb. 22, 2011

A few months ago, I developed this odd little spasm in the corner of my left eye. It’s not noticeable to people looking at me, but it is incredibly annoying. I couldn’t think of what to tie the cause to: is it diet, an increase in stress or maybe my embryonic twin trying to establish dominance over our shared body?  It’s not a twin… at least, not according to WebMD and MayoClinic.com.

An optometrist friend of mine told me it was possibly myokymia so I looked it up on WebMD. From there I was directed to Neuromyotonia, and learned it is associated with four different childhood syndromes and is a “rare neuromuscular disorder characterized by abnormal nerve impulses from the peripheral nerves.” I’m not sure if this is better or worse than having a twin.

The fact that this information is vetted by doctors and medical organizations and available for free online is something that the two founders of the company always had in mind. James H. Clark, a bit of an internet hot-shot what with his involvement in Netscape, wanted to create an internet-based system that would serve as a depository for medical and billing information. Jeffrey T. Arnold initially devised an idea for a web site that offered free healthcare information to consumers and subscription services to doctors. In 1999, the two merged and eventually became WebMD.

According to 2010 web rankings, WebMD is the leading health-centric website with more than 20 million monthly visitors looking up ways to cure indigestion or check their flu symptoms.

Of course, being the largest pill in the bottle brings with it a need to remain profitable. WebMD has been accused of everything from being in bed with pharmaceutical companies to skewing posted information so that it will add fuel to any hypochondriac’s most vivid disease-dream. Flashing ads for Lipitor, Cymbalta and other drugs assault you on each page. They have even added an entire section that caters to pet health. I’m not saying that this is bad, but it does show a certain kind of agenda.

This is where my favorite health website, the Mayo Clinic, comes in. It’s a non-profit, anti-agenda health resource that realizes you and I don’t have a golden ticket when it comes to medical costs. Everything from in-depth information about migraine causes to how to effectively prepare for your next doctor’s appointment is covered in a calm and clear manner.

After plugging in “myokymia” at MayoClinic.com, I learned that it is an involuntary spasm of the muscles around the eye, completely normal, and eventually goes away. A little less alarmist than WebMD, and what my optometrist friend meant for me to know all along.

Considering how much of a quagmire the United States health insurance industry is in, many people, including myself, will turn to a web-based resource rather than risk the wrath of an insurance plan that doesn’t cover a visit to the doctor’s office. It’s important to remember where you are getting your information from and to remember to always seek a second opinion, especially online. I’m just wondering if my deductible covers embryonic twin removal. I hope so.

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