According to a national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 35% of U.S. adults say that at one time or another they have gone online specifically to try to figure out what medical condition they or someone else might have ("Online Diagnosers.")
46% of Online Diagnosers say that the information found online led them to think they needed the attention of a medical professional. 38% of Online Diagnosers say it was something they could take care of at home and 11% say it was both or in-between.
Accuracy Of Initial Online Diagnosis
The report says that women are more likely than men to go online to figure out a possible diagnosis. Other groups that have a high likelihood of doing so include younger people, white adults, those who live in households earning $75,000 or more, and those with a college degree or advanced degrees.
N.B. Historically, people have always tried to answer their health questions at home and made personal choices about whether and when to consult a clinician, says the report. Many have now added the Internet to their personal health toolbox, helping themselves and their loved ones better understand what might be ailing them. The study was not designed to determine whether theIinternet has had a good or bad influence on health care. It measures the scope, but not the outcome, of this activity.
The last time respondents had a serious health issue and to whom they turned for help, either online or offline:
Since a majority of adults consult the internet when they have health questions, these communications with clinicians, family, and fellow patients joined the stream of information flowing in.
The Internet as a Diagnostic Tool:
72% of Internet users say they looked online for health information of one kind or another within the past year, including searches related to serious conditions, general information searches, and searches for minor health problems. This group is referred to as “Online Health Seekers.”
When asked to think about the last time they hunted for health or medical information, 77% of Online Health Seekers say they began at a search engine such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo. Another 13% say they began at a site that specializes in health information, like WebMD. Just 2% say they started their research at a more general site like Wikipedia and an additional 1% say they started at a social network site like Facebook.
39% of Online Health Seekers say they looked for information related to their own situation. Another 39% say they looked for information related to someone else’s health or medical situation. An additional 15% of these Internet users say they were looking both on their own and someone else’s behalf.
26% of internet users who look online for health information say they have been asked to pay for access to something they wanted to see online. Of those who have been asked to pay, just 2% say they did so. Fully 83% of those who hit a pay wall say they tried to find the same information somewhere else. 13% of those who hit a pay wall say they just gave up.
There is a social life of health information, says the report, as well as peer-to-peer support, as people exchange stories about their own health issues to help each other understand what might lie ahead:
Health-related reviews and rankings continue to be used by only a modest group of consumers. About one in five Internet users have consulted online reviews of particular drugs or medical treatments, doctors or other providers, and hospitals or medical facilities. And just 3-4% of Internet users have posted online reviews of health care services or providers.
Release access The Pew Internet & American Life Project here for additional information about the study.