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Report shows 35 percent of U.S. adults turn to the Internet to diagnose a medical condition

A new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that 59 percent of American adults have looked online for health information in the past year and 35 percent have used the Internet to specifically diagnose a medical condition they, or someone else, might have.

The findings are based on data from a national telephone survey of 3,014 adults living in the United States from Aug. 7 - Sept. 6, 2012. Telephone interviews were conducted in English and Spanish by landline and cell phone. Here is a sampling of what the survey results showed:

  • When asked if the information found online led them to think they needed the attention of a medical professional, 46 percent of online diagnosers say that was the case. Thirty-eight percent of online diagnosers say it was something they could take care of at home and 11 percent say it was both or in-between.
  • Clinicians are a central resource for information or support during serious health episodes — and the care and conversation take place mostly offline. Seventy percent of U.S. adults got information, care, or support from a doctor or other health care professional.
  • Eight in 10 online health inquiries start at a search engine. Seventy-seven percent of online health seekers say they began at a search engine such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo. Another 13 percent say they began at a site that specializes in health information, like WebMD.
  • Half of health information searches are on behalf of someone else. Thirty-nine percent of online health seekers say they looked for information related to their own situation. Another 39 percent say they looked for information related to someone else’s health or medical situation. An additional 15 percent of these Internet users say they were looking both on their own and someone else’s behalf.

The full report is worth taking a moment to read and includes additional data on peer-to-peer healthcare and the Internet as a diagnostic health tool. The authors also point out:

It is important to note what these findings mean – and what they don’t mean. Historically, people have always tried to answer their health questions at home and made personal choices about whether and when to consult a clinician. Many have now added the Internet to their personal health toolbox, helping themselves and their loved ones better understand what might be ailing them. This study was not designed to determine whether the Internet has had a good or bad influence on health care. It measures the scope, but not the outcome, of this activity.

Previously: A look at social-media use among psoriasis patients, A detailed look at how Americans search for health information online, The third most popular activity on the Internet and More than half of U.S. adults turn to the Internet for health information
Photo by Robert Stewart

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