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Eight Out Of Ten Web Users Have Looked For Health Information Online

Eight Out Of Ten Web Users Have Looked For Health Information Online

I am guilty of diagnosing medical conditions using a combination of WebMd and Google. I’ve diagnosed myself with everything from chronic fatigue syndrome to a bruised kidney (neither of which I ended up having). It’s a habit I’ve begun to break given that only 2/5 of the medical sites studied by a group in the UK gave accurate information

However, a recent study shows that I’m certainly not alone in searching for health information online. A new report issued by the PEW Internet Project and highlighted in The Washington Press says that looking for health information is the third most popular task on the web, beat out only by email and internet search engines. Reports The Washington Post, “Eight out of 10 Internet users report going online for health information, even if it’s only occasionally.” 

The associate director of PEW, Suzanna Fox, told The Washington Post that there are multiple reasons that patients are turning to the web. Medical information is easily accessible via our computers, or via mobile phones if we’re on the go. Fox added “In many ways, the Internet has become the de facto second opinion,” she said. “People go online to prepare for a doctor’s appointment – or recover from [it].”

However, some users are far less likely to search for health information. As it turns out, only 50% of African-Americans, Latinos, adults over 65, individuals with disabilities and households with less than $30,000 annual income use the internet for health information. The study did not give reasons why these groups were less likely to turn to the web.

So is it detrimental that we’re going to “Doctor Google” for medical advice? Quite possibly. When Eric Horvitz and Ryen White analyzed search results around the web, they found that “in contrast to the actual prevalence of life-threatening illnesses, the proportion of websites listing them as primary causes is significantly higher. For example, while brain tumors occur in less than one if 50,000 people, 25% of the documents showing up in a web search for ‘headache’ point to a brain tumor as a possible cause.”

In addition, 75% of us don’t check the date or source of our health-related search results. You could be reading something that is out of date or written by someone who has absolutely no background in health. Keep these facts in mind next time you search for health information (since we’ve established that most of us are looking for it) and save yourself some anxiety.

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Photo thanks to Alan Levine

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39 comments

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7:42AM PDT on Jul 29, 2012

Thanks. (I don't trust every health article on this site either. There are many articles that contradict one another.)

11:19AM PDT on Sep 8, 2011

I researched my symptoms online once, and when I later went to the hospital the doctor came to the same conclusion. It's a good starting point. =)

9:16PM PST on Feb 21, 2011

thanx

10:56AM PST on Feb 16, 2011

When researching various medical symptoms/cures online consider where the information is published. There are many reputable sites and I think it is always good to be a more informed consumer.

2:50AM PST on Feb 15, 2011

thanks

10:09AM PST on Feb 11, 2011

I use the internet as a resource for health issues. It's a starting point.

8:23AM PST on Feb 11, 2011

I'm training to be a medical researcher, so yes, but the site I look up information on are very different than WebMD or Ask.com.

Most "Alternative" medicine sites I have come across should be shut down and the operators charged with a slew of crimes ranging from fraud to criminal malpractice.

12:28AM PST on Feb 11, 2011

You have to research, and compare it with your doctor.

5:33PM PST on Feb 9, 2011

It is an excellent resource to use!

6:40AM PST on Feb 9, 2011

I use the internet all of the time to research drug interactions and side effects. Reading info from more than one source is always a good idea.

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