A descriptive correlational study design was used to examine the relationship between cyberchondria, uncertainty, and psychological distress in Oman. A sample of 393 participants was recruited using a convenience sampling technique (non-probability sampling). With the aim of minimising the costs and time for the data collection, the researchers recruited the participants through social media. The sample consisted of those who met the eligibility requirements: (a) living in Oman, (b) willing to participate in the study, and (c) signing an informed consent for participating in the study.
Once ethical approval was obtained from all the required committees, the information sheet and survey questions were posted on social media platforms. The online survey, which was open throughout April 2020, took each participant about 20-25 minutes to complete.
Prior to data collection, ethical approval was obtained from the College of Nursing Scientific Research and Ethics Committee, Sultan Qaboos University (Ref.nr.: CON/NF/2020/15). The survey page was introduced with a short description of the nature, objectives, methodology, and potential benefits of the survey, ensuring the respondents’ voluntary and confidential participation. By answering the survey, the participants gave their consent. No personal data was collected, so the participants’ confidentiality was not an issue. All electronic data was saved on a password-protected computer, and only the members of the research team were able to identify the responses of individual subjects. The participants with COVID-19 have not been reported in any other submission by this author team and to our knowledge not by anyone else.
The researchers used a self-reporting questionnaire to measure the extents of the research phenomena, consisting of (1) demographic data; (2) the short-form version of the Cyberchondria Severity Scale (CSS-12); (3) the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10); and (4) the Intolerance of Uncertainty Scale, short form (IUS-12).
The short-form version of the Cyberchondria Severity Scale
The CSS-12 is a brief, reliable, and valid tool to measure worry/anxiety attributable to excessive online health search . The scale consists of 12 items that are rated on a 5-point Likert-scale ranging from 1 (“never”) to 5 (“always”). An example item is “If I notice an unexplained bodily sensation, I will search for it on the internet.” The CSS-12 scale demonstrated reliable internal consistency as stated by the authors, with higher scores indicating increased levels of awareness . Permission to use the survey was obtained from the owner of the instrument prior to the data collection.
Kessler Psychological Distress Scale
The K10 scale is composed of ten questions concerning emotional states, measuring psychological distress. Each item has a response scale of five levels, from 1 = “never” to 5 = “all of the time”. The total score is the sum of the 10 questions, and a high score indicates a serious level of psychological distress. The scale demonstrates the strength of test-retest correlation coefficients, temporal stability, and internal consistency . The survey is available in the public domain with permission to use if for non-profit purposes.
Intolerance of Uncertainty Scale, short form
This scale was developed by Carleton, Norton, and Asmundson (2007) to assess the responses of individuals to uncertainty and ambiguous situations. It consists of 12 items rated on a five-point Likert scale from 1 (not at all characteristic of me) to 5 (entirely characteristic of me). Possible scores range between 12 and 60, with higher scores reflecting greater uncertainty. The scale demonstrated good validity and reliability (Cronbach's alpha is 0.85) . Permission to use the survey was obtained in advance from the owner.
Statistical analysis plan
The data was downloaded from the Google forms in Excel format, then transferred to the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) program version 23 for the analysis. All variables, including age were on categorical level except for the total scores of the questionnaires (CSS-12, K10, and IUS-12). Means, standard deviations, percentages, and frequencies were used to describe the participants’ demographic information. Independent t-test and Spearman correlation were used to draw conclusions. The statistical significance was set at p <0.05.
The Independent t-test was performed to explore whether there is a significant difference between the mean score of the cyberchondria experience as the dependent variable and selected sample characteristics as independent variables. The Spearman correlation coefficient was used to test for the bivariate relationship between the dependent variable cyberchondria experience and the dependent variables of experienced psychological distress, uncertainty, and hours spent surfing the internet.