One-Third of Americans Turn to Online Sources for Health Information

Yahoo Contributor Network

In a nationwide survey conducted Aug. 7 through Sept. 6 of more than 3,000 people, answers to survey questions revealed 35 percent of Americans revealed they have gone at least once to the Internet to determine what a medical condition might be for themselves or someone they know.

Interesting Data Obtained in Pew Research Center Survey

The survey was conducted as part of the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project by Princeton Survey Research Associates International . Approximately half of the interviews were conducted over landline phones, the other half via cell phones; interviews were conducted in either English or Spanish.

Of the 35 percent of respondents who revealed themselves to be "online diagnosers," as the Pew Research Center calls them -- self-diagnosers -- 46 percent said that the health information found online lead them to consult a medical professional, 38 percent said the online material lead them to believe it was a health condition they could manage on their own and 11 percent say the information they learned lead them to do both or did something in between the two.

How Accurate Is Online Health Information?

Of those who sought assistance from a medical professional after self-diagnosing online, 41 percent said the diagnosis they'd determined was confirmed by the medical professional; 18 percent said the health professional either did not agree with the self-diagnosis or offered another opinion; 2 percent acknowledged the medical professional partially concurred with the self-diagnosis; and 1 percent revealed that their visit to a medical professional lead to inconclusive results.

Thirty-five percent of self-diagnosers did not seek an opinion from a medical professional, meaning there is no way to confirm or disprove the online diagnosis these respondents determined for themselves or someone else.

Who Are the People Most Likely to Seek Potential Online Diagnoses?

The Pew Research Center's study found that women are more likely than men to look for health information online that could lead them to finding a diagnosis for a health condition. Younger people, rather than baby boomers and their seniors, more often look to the Internet for health information leading to a diagnosis and white people are more likely to use the online resources than people of other races.

Education and income levels also figure into who is more likely to seek online health information, with those people with a college education or advanced degree more likely to than their less formally educated counterparts and people who live in households earning $75,000 per year or more choose the Internet for health information more often than those of lower income levels.

Bottom Line

Search engines were the top choice of Internet users seeking online health information. The results obtained in a search engine query frequently range anywhere from the outrageous to the truly scientific and accurate health information. The quality of the search results chosen are likely to affect decisions the searcher makes about any future actions to be taken. Let's hope that most people err on the side of caution when determining whether to consult a medical professional for all but the most mundane conditions.

On the other hand, might such online searches for first aid for a rash or what to do if you drop a hammer on your toe not be viable tools in the search for ways to reduce health care costs? Might it keep some people from seeking what would be unnecessary professional medical care, reducing the stress on emergency rooms and urgent care centers?

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