Seventy-two percent of all Internet users say they have looked online for health information of one kind or another within the past 12 months. Although 70 percent of American adults report turning to a doctor for information, care or support for a serious health issue within the past year, more than one-third of American adults have gone online to check medical symptoms and search for a specific diagnosis. According to the Pew Research Center, half of these individuals have followed up with a visit to a medical professional.
Where do people start looking for information?
• 77% begin at a search engine, such as Google, Bing or Yahoo
• 13% begin at a website specializing in health information, such as WebMD.com
• 2% begin at a general information website, such as Wikipedia.com
• 1% begin at a social network, such as Facebook
These statistics, published in the “Health Online 2013” study released in January of this year, align with the increase and availability of medical information online. Back in 2002, only 52 percent of Americans reported using the Internet to find health and wellness information. As a result, some patients arrive at a doctor’s office with a diagnosis already in mind. However, nine out of 10 respondents in a survey of Microsoft employees, acknowledged a review of their symptoms led them to content diagnosing a much more serious condition than they had, more often among those with vague symptoms, such as fatigue or headaches.
Some physicians call this fear, or belief in the “worst case scenario,” cyberchondia, similar in nature to hypochondria, an abnormal anxiety about one’s health.
Trusting your health to your keyboard and mouse may educate you about a doctor-diagnosed condition when using reliable websites, but can be dangerous if you attempt to self-diagnose. There are some websites that are institution – or government-based, like Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic or WebMD.com, but most online sources are not regulated or written by medical experts.
Since many symptoms can mean a variety of health problems, it can be risky to trust your health and well-being to the Internet. While many symptoms may be a simple diagnosis, the opposite can be the case and on rare occasions it can be something more serious. For example, taking an ibuprofen to relieve undiagnosed, severe stomach pain could make a condition, such as ulcers, much worse. As worry from self-diagnosis increases, symptoms such as headaches, worsen and can increase anxiety.
The single way to ensure you are receiving reliable information is to seek out the advice of a physician. Working with a physician to further research a medical condition (after a doctor’s office visit) can help you better educate yourself about your ailment and take charge of your health.