Got Symptoms? Research Shows Patients Diagnose Online

Published Online: Thursday, February 14, 2013
At least 35% of adults turn to the Internet when figuring out the source of their sniffles, pain, or other symptoms, according to a January 15, 2013, article from U.S. News and World Report.

The Pew Research Center surveyed approximately 3000 people for its research, finding that the 35% used the Internet specifically to find out the medical conditions they or another person may have. The research center deemed those participants “online diagnosers,” and determined that 53% of the participants in that group would then speak to a health professional—U.S. News and World Report did not specify the types of professionals—regarding the condition.

In 41% of cases where participants visited a health professional, the professional confirmed the online diagnosis. Only 18% of participants reported that the clinician did not agree with the online diagnosis or offered a different diagnosis.

Most participants—77%—used a search engine like Google, Yahoo, or Bing for their online diagnosis. The remaining 13% began their search at a health-specific website, such as WebMD. Forty-six percent of the Internet searchers reported that the information found during the search led them to believe a physician visit was necessary, whereas 38% felt their symptoms could be treated at home.

The survey data also showed that women were more likely than men to search for a potential diagnosis online, as were younger people, white adults, members of households earning $75,000 or more, and those with college or advanced degrees.

The results build on conclusions from the research center’s prior surveys, conducted as part of its Pew Internet Project.

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