Healthcare News & Insights

Health websites save lives, 11% of patients say

We’ve written before about how patients are getting more information from health-related websites when they consider the options for their care. And in a new survey, many people have an even higher compliment for online health information: 

They say healthcare websites saved their lives.

In fact, 11% of Americans believe they would be dead or severely incapacitated if it weren’t for web-based health information, according to a recent survey from health IT vendor Philips Healthcare.

In addition, among the 1,003 adults polled, more than a third believe online health tools are one of the keys to living a healthy life and 41% are comfortable using websites to check their symptoms.

That’s beneficial for both providers and patients, as people who are better informed and more engaged are more likely to take steps to keep themselves healthy, which can lower readmissions and cut costs in other ways. And many patients are willing to get their doctors involved in their home-based health efforts, according to the Philips survey. More than half (55%) of patients are comfortable with using mobile or home-based symptom trackers that send information to their doctor.

However, some data from the survey could cause alarm for doctors. For example, 25% of respondents say they use online symptom trackers or self-diagnosis tools as often as they go see their physician — and they trust the information they find just as much as what their doctor tells them. And another 26% say they use those tools instead of going to the doctor.

Of course, when a patient finds accurate information and uses it to avoid an unnecessary visit to the doctor, that can be a good thing. But not all online health information is accurate, and some patients may be too trusting of what they see on the Internet.

Experts recommend doctors take advantage of their patients’ desire to be more engaged in their own health by offering recommendations about health information websites, mobile apps and other online tools. That will help patients avoid relying on harmful data and encourage them to combine their self-help efforts with the treatment plans from their doctors.

This also means healthcare providers can start using their websites and social media presence to offer educational tools and better connect with current and potential patients.

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