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One Quarter Of Online Medical Searches Are Unverified

January 4, 2011

Only one out of every four people who use the Internet to obtain medical advice bother to check the source to make sure the information is reliable claims a new a report commissioned by the healthcare firm Bupa and released to the public on Tuesday.

According to Reuters, the study, which surveyed more than 12,000 people in Australia, Brazil, Britain, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Spain and the United States, found that 81% of all those people who have internet access have used it to seek advice about health care, medicine, or various medical conditions.

Furthermore, 46% percent of those who use the Internet for medical search do so to self-diagnose, while 39% search online to learn other patients’ experiences with specific conditions, according to the report, which was compiled by researchers at the London School of Economics (LSE).

“New technologies are helping more people around the world to find out more about their health and to make better informed decisions. However, people need to make sure that the information they find will make them better, not worse,” David McDaid, a senior research fellow at the LSE, told Reuters Life reporters on Tuesday.

“Relying on dodgy information can easily lead to people taking risks with inappropriate tests and treatments, wasting money and causing unnecessary worry,” added Annabel Bentley, a medical director at Bupa. “Equally, people may check online and dismiss serious symptoms when they should get advice from a doctor.”

People in Russia are the most likely to use the Internet to find medical advice. Some 96% of that nation’s residents go online for health information. China is second with 92%, followed by India (90%), Mexico (89%) and Brazil (86%). The French are the least likely to search for health information, with just 59% doing so on a regular basis, according to the survey.

“Most of the top 20 healthcare websites are based in the US, they are largely geared towards the scientific and academic communities and individuals from the US are their main users,” the authors of the report wrote.

“Most searches for health information will take place via the major search engines, e.g. Google and Yahoo,” they added. “Searches for specific diseases or medical problems, medical procedures and exercise/fitness information are the principal types of information being sought.”

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