A New Pew Survey Finds Many Americans Rely On Medical Diagnosis From The Internet
January 15, 2013

Many Americans Rely On Medical Diagnosis From The Internet

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Whether it´s serving as a reference tool for clear-eyed amateur diagnosticians or gasoline on the fire for crazed hypochondriacs, WebMD and other online medical resources are fairly popular with Americans, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center.

A telephone survey of more than 3,000 people showed that about 35 percent of the U.S. uses the internet to learn about their medical condition, real or imagined.

Within the group of self-diagnosers, half followed up their research with a visit to a medical professional. That medical professional confirmed the internet-based diagnosis 41 percent of the time, according to poll respondents.

Despite the popularity of medical information on the internet, the poll showed most people still get their care and advice offline, as 70 percent of respondents said that the last time they had a serious condition, they saw a doctor or other health professional. About 60 percent said they got some kind of support from friends and family, and 24 percent received support from others with the same condition.

That part of the poll came as relief to medical professionals and others in the healthcare industry.

"Ten years ago, we were worried we wouldn't be No. 1 – it would be the Internet,” Ted Eytan, a Washington-based director for healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente, told USA Today.

"Sometimes they don't get it right, but that's what we're here for," he added.

A report based on the poll, authored by Pew researchers Susannah Fox and Maeve Duggan, noted just how the internet was being used to look for health information.

According to the report, since 2000, search engines have been the most popular way to search for health information, with 82 percent of internet-based inquiries starting at a search engine like Google, Bing or Yahoo.

Other respondents, about 13 percent, said they began their online search with a health reference like WebMD. Only 2 percent used general reference sites like Wikipedia, and only 1 percent looked to social networks for support.

The poll also revealed some demographic differences among people who sought peer support. About 28 percent of women in the survey looked for advice from others with the condition, while 21 percent of men reached out to others for support.

"The social life of health information is a low-key but steady presence in American life – personal stories, peer support, user-generated reviews of clinicians, drugs, medical facilities – are important to some people, but still just a minority of U.S. adults," Fox said in a statement.

Besides using social media to connect with other patients, people also follow the medical progress of others dealing with a medical condition. About 26 percent of respondents said they “read or watched someone else´s experience about health or medical issues in the last 12 months.”

While people aren´t shy about investigating or recording their own condition online, they tend not to reference the internet for researching drugs, medical devices or services.

According to the poll, only 20 percent of those surveyed reference the internet for information on the medical products or services they consume. Just over 3 percent said they post online reviews of healthcare services or providers.