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More Than One-Third of Patients Go Online to Diagnose, Research Says

January 16, 2013
by Rajiv Leventhal
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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, according to new research published by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.

Thirty-five percent of U.S. adults say that at one time or another they have gone online specifically to try to figure out what medical condition they or someone else might have.  Pew labeled these patients “online diagnosers.” And 72 percent of internet users say they looked online for health information of one kind or another within the past year.  This includes searches related to serious conditions, general information searches and searches for minor health problems.  Pew has labeled these patients “online health seekers.”

Nearly half—46 percent—of online diagnosers said the information found online led them to think they needed the attention of a medical professional, and 41 percent said a medical professional confirmed their diagnosis.

Moreover, women are more likely than men to go online to figure out a possible diagnosis. Other groups that have a high likelihood of doing so include younger people, white adults, those who live in households earning $75,000 or more and those with a college degree or advanced degrees, the study says.

The results reported come from a nationwide survey of 3,014 adults living in the U.S. Telephone interviews were conducted by landline and cell phone. The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International.

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