More than one in three American adults — 35% — have gone online specifically to try to figure out what medical condition they or someone else might have, according to a Pew Research Center survey of 3,014 people.
When asked whether the information found online led them to think they needed the attention of a medical professional, 46% of online diagnosers said that was the case. Meanwhile, 38% said it was something they could take care of at home and 11% said it was both or in-between.
When asked about the accuracy of their initial diagnosis, 41% of online diagnosers said a medical professional confirmed their diagnosis; 35% said they did not visit a clinician to get a professional opinion; and 18% said they consulted a medical professional and the clinician either did not agree or offered a different opinion about the condition.
Women were more likely than men to go online to figure out a possible diagnosis. Other groups with a high likelihood of going online for that reason were younger people, white adults, those who live in households with $75,000 or more in income and those with a college or higher degree.
“Historically, people have always tried to answer their health questions at home and made personal choices about whether and when to consult a clinician,” the researchers noted. “Many have now added the Internet to their personal health toolbox, helping themselves and their loved ones better understand what might be ailing them.
“This study was not designed to determine whether the Internet has had a good or bad influence on healthcare. It measures the scope, but not the outcome, of this activity.”
The study is available at www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Health-online/Summary-of-Findings.aspx.