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One in three try to diagnose online

18th January 2013

One third of Americans turns to the internet for help with a medical diagnosis, according to a survey by Pew Research Center in Washington.

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The nationwide telephone poll interviewed 3,000 US residents, and found one in three of them have used the internet to diagnose a health problem in themselves, family member or friend.

The results showed that 35% of respondents used the internet specifically to try and find a diagnosis.

However, 70% said they got help from a health professional for serious medical problems, while 60% turned to family and friends, and 24% said they got it from other patients with the same problem.

Once they had found information, 46% had gone to a doctor on the basis of what they found online, while 38% had decided they could manage the problem by themselves.

More than 40% said their online diagnosis was borne out by their doctor's opinion.

Younger, highly educated white women living in better off households were the most likely group to use the internet in this way.

Overall, figures from the Center's Internet & American Life Project showed, of the 81% of Americans who are online, 59% say used the internet to find health information, in a phenomenon that has been dubbed "Dr Google."

Pew's report concluded it was inevitable the internet would be a source of health information for most people, but it did not replace talking to family members, friends, other patients, or healthcare professionals.

Before the advent of the internet, people still searched around for possible clues about what was ailing them, often asking family or friends before going to the doctor, it said.

The report concluded clinicians are still the central source of help for serious health problems, and the interactions with them take place mostly offline.

However, there are dangers inherent in using the internet for self-diagnosis, according to a study last July.

The closer one is emotionally to a person, the harder it can be to use online information to evaluate a potential medical condition. Where the diagnosis is sought for oneself, personal attitudes and deep-running habits of thought can influence how a person interprets what they find.

An anxious person may be far more likely to think they have a serious disease when they Google their symptoms, while a happy-go-lucky type could underestimate their level of risk, a study in the Journal of Consumer Research concluded.

It said that doctors had the benefit of psychological distance from their patients, and were more likely to diagnose people accurately, rather than just ticking off lists of symptoms.

 

 

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