Americans Are Increasingly Turning To The Internet To Self-Diagnose Their Medical Conditions

A recent Pew Research Center survey finds that 35 percent of U.S. adults have used the internet to diagnose a medical problem either for themselves or an acquaintance.

Eighty two percent of Americans consulted search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo for diagnostic information while an additional 13 percent used medical sites such as WebMD. But while internet self-diagnoses are a reality and convenience of the 21st century, researchers warned that they are still not an acceptable replacement for doctor visits — especially since their study shows that few self-diagnoses are confirmed by medical professionals:

Out of the people who said they went online to help find out what they or someone else was suffering from, 46 percent said what they found online led them to believe they needed help from a medical professional. Another 38 percent said they thought they could treat it at home, and 11 percent say it was in between.

However, less than half — 41 percent — said that a doctor confirmed the diagnosis they made from online research. Thirty-five percent said they did not seek a professional opinion, and 18 percent said the medical professional or clinician did not agree with what they thought or had a different opinion about their condition. […]

“It is important to note what these findings mean — and what they don’t mean,” the authors noted. “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.”

As with most things in the digital age, medical information that can be easily researched online can serve as an effective primary tool for Americans. But as the saying goes, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, and consumers who rely solely on internet-aided self-diagnoses — either due to rising health care costs or simple convenience — do so at the risk of their own health.

ThinkProgress has previously reported on Americans’ increasing use of online “crowd funding” and internet coupon services such as Groupon for cheaper health care services in the face of skyrocketing costs and premiums.