Is “Dr. Google” Stressing You Out? DHMC Seeking Participants for Study on Causes of, and Relief From, Health Anxiety

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We believe this research can help our patients in primary care gain a greater sense of control over their physical health, by learning ways to better manage their worry.

Robert E. Brady, PhD, director of Anxiety Disorders Service at DHMC

Living in a time where we have limitless information at our fingertips, most people have relied on the internet for answers to all sorts of questions. This includes our health – who hasn’t turned to “Dr. Google” to explain a symptom? Unfortunately, relying on the internet for health answers can often lead to false information and unnecessary concern.

Circular internet searches are just one source of health anxiety, which everyone experiences at some point in their lives. It is normal to have worries when the diagnosis of a new illness or unexplained symptoms occur, and these worries usually motivate people to rely on their health care providers to keep themselves healthy. For some, however, repeatedly seeking reassurance from doctors, undergoing new testing, or frequently visiting urgent care can become a tricky cycle. These services may create a moment of temporary relief, but then the cycle begins again with new symptoms and “what ifs.” Many people with excessive health anxiety experience trouble accepting their health care provider’s feedback, and often resort to seeking additional evaluations and opinions in an attempt to feel more certain. 

In an effort to better understand the causes of health anxiety and how it can be alleviated, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) is currently recruiting local participants for a health anxiety study, aimed at helping identify what thoughts, behaviors, and physical sensations lead to health anxiety and how better to respond to these triggers. Qualified participants will be those who are already receiving their primary care services at Dartmouth-Hitchcock primary care clinics. Participants will have four visits with a study clinician over four weeks, followed by one follow-up visit three months later. The study will be led by Robert E. Brady, PhD, director of Anxiety Disorders Service at DHMC and a health anxiety specialist.

“We believe this research can help our patients in primary care gain a greater sense of control over their physical health, by learning ways to better manage their worry,” Brady said of the study, which is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. “Ultimately, we want people to be able to get the right kind of help, at the right time, for overall wellness. The outcomes of our study have the potential to shape the way we care for people for a long time to come.”

If you are a local D-H Primary Care patient interested in participating in the health anxiety study or to learn more, contact the Health Anxiety Study Team at 603-650-6437 or tiffany.l.gilbert@hitchcock.org.

About Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health (D-HH), New Hampshire’s only academic health system and the state’s largest private employer, serves a population of 1.9 million across northern New England. D-HH provides access to more than 2,000 providers in almost every area of medicine, delivering care at its flagship hospital, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, NH. DHMC was named again in 2020 as the #1 hospital in New Hampshire by U.S. News & World Report, and recognized for high performance in 9 clinical specialties and procedures. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health includes the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, one of only 51 NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the nation; Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, the state’s only children’s hospital; member hospitals in Lebanon, Keene, and New London, NH, and Windsor, VT, and Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire; and 24 Dartmouth-Hitchcock clinics that provide ambulatory services across New Hampshire and Vermont. The D-HH system trains nearly 400 residents and fellows annually, and performs world-class research, in partnership with the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and the White River Junction VA Medical Center in White River Junction, VT.