1 in 3 people have gone online to diagnose a health problem

A full 35 percent of people polled say they've tried to figure out a medical issue by checking it out online, according to a new Pew study.

A fair number of people are turning to the Internet to help them with medical problems.

Among 3,000 adults surveyed by Pew Internet, 35 percent say they've gone online at one time or another to diagnose a medical condition. Some were researching their own medical problems, while others were looking into problems suffered by people they know.

Dubbed "online diagnosers" by Pew, 46 percent of them said the information they found online made them think they needed the help of a doctor. Another 38 percent said they felt they could remedy the problem at home, and 11 percent said it was both or somewhere in between.

Did the online diagnosers find the information accurate?

A full 41 percent said a doctor confirmed the diagnosis they found online, while 2 percent said a doctor partially confirmed it. Only 18 percent said the doctor disagreed with the online diagnosis or offered a different opinion. And 35 percent didn't bother to see a doctor to get a professional opinion.

Drilling down further, 72 percent of all Internet users polled looked for health information online over the past year. This includes people researching specific problems or just seeking general information.

Labeled "online health seekers" by Pew, most of these people relied on search engines to kick off their medical quest.

Among those polled, 77 percent said they started at a search engine such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo. Another 13 percent went to a specialized medical site, such as WebMD. And 1 percent kicked off their search at a social network like Facebook.

When it comes to serious health issues, most people still go the old-fashioned route.

When last facing a serious medical problem, 70 percent got information or support from a doctor, 60 percent from family and friends, and 24 percent from other people who had the same condition.

However, the online world still played a role even in these cases.

"The vast majority of this care and conversation took place offline, but a small group of people did communicate with each of these sources online," Pew said. "And, since a majority of adults consult the Internet when they have health questions, these communications with clinicians, family, and fellow patients joined the stream of information flowing in."

The Pew-commissioned survey reached 3,014 adults in the U.S. by phone and was conducted from August 7 to September 6, 2012.

About the author

Journalist, software trainer, and Web developer Lance Whitney writes columns and reviews for CNET, Computer Shopper, Microsoft TechNet, and other technology sites. His first book, "Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time," was published by Wiley & Sons in November 2012.

 

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