Healthcare News & Insights

35% of patients have used websites to diagnose medical conditions at home

Yesterday we reported on an area in which patients could be more effectively using technology to reap health benefits. But here’s an area where people may rely too much on tech tools: 

Using websites to self-diagnose medical conditions.

More than one-third (35%) of adults have gone online to diagnose a medical condition for themselves or others, according to a recent survey from the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Of those, less than half (46%) said they felt they needed to visit a doctor after doing their research.

How accurate are patients when they diagnose themselves using help from online tools?

After patients had a follow-up appointment with a clinician:

  • 41% said the doctor confirmed the self-diagnosis
  • 35% said they didn’t talk to a doctor
  • 18% said their doctor disagreed with the diagnosis
  • 2% had a self-diagnosis partially confirmed, and
  • 1% said their meeting with a doctor was inconclusive.

Where doctors come in

The Pew survey shows that patients won’t pay to get health information, and they’re using general search engines to find it.

About a quarter of survey respondents have come across paid sites when they research health conditions. Of those, just 2% decided to pay, while 83% tried to find the same information elsewhere and 13% gave up looking.

The majority (77%) began by searching on Google, Bing or Yahoo. The rest used specific medical sites like WebMD (13%), Wikipedia (2%) or a social network (1%). As other studies have shown, the sheer volume and variety of the results returned by search engines means patients likely to find incorrect or conflicting information.

Of course, there’s no way of knowing whether any patients of the patients surveyed by Pew were steered wrong or made poor choices because of their web searches. But what is clear, as anyone who’s used the Internet knows, there’s a lot of disreputable information available online. Doctors may be able to help by giving tips on how to find the best data, and emphasizing that online research isn’t a replacement for doctors’ visits.

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