Consumers Show High Degree of Trust in Online Health Information, Report Success in Self-Diagnosis

Even when it comes to their own health, consumers trust online information, with three in ten Americans reporting that they “always” or “frequently” turn to the Internet to find answers to medical questions and 65 percent of those seeking medical information online saying they trust the information, according to a new survey from Wolters Kluwer Health. Among consumers seeking medical information online, 63 percent claim to have never misdiagnosed themselves when using online medical information resources.

Easier access to online medical information may also have a positive impact on the doctor-patient relationship, with two-thirds, 67 percent, of Americans that seek medical information online stating that this has made them better informed as patients. Nearly half, or 48 percent, of consumers say they turn to the Internet to find answers to medical questions in order to be more informed about a medical condition before a doctor’s visit. Interestingly, with so many consumers seeking medical information online, only 4 percent report having experienced “cyberchondria” – a term coined to describe how people become convinced that they have an illness or condition they don’t actually have based on information they read on the Internet.

Findings come from a recent Wolters Kluwer Health survey conducted by IPSOS among more than 1,000 U.S. consumers ages 18 and older. Survey questions focused on uncovering consumer perceptions of and practices around using online resources and information to answer medical questions as well as exploring consumer self-diagnosis habits.

An earlier survey conducted in late 2011 (Wolters Kluwer Health Point-of-Care survey of more than 300 U.S. physicians, also conducted by IPSOS) shows some interesting comparison points between physician online habits and views and those of consumers. Like consumers, physicians also turn to the Internet for much of their information, citing general browsers such as Google and Yahoo as a frequent source of information for 46 percent of survey respondents. Professional journals remain the number one resource for physicians, however, used by 68 percent as a frequent source.

While consumers claim to rarely misdiagnose themselves, physicians will often change a diagnosis based on information they find online. In fact, 63 percent of physicians surveyed reported having changed an initial diagnosis based on new information accessed via online resources and support tools. Meanwhile, while most physicians believe easier access to medical knowledge by patients has had a positive impact on the doctor/patient relationship, one in five say that this has been detrimental, leading to misinformation and incorrect self-diagnosis.

“The prevalence of online resources and information in the healthcare industry has led to significant changes in how physicians and consumers alike research and access healthcare information and has even impacted how clinicians practice medicine,” said Linda Peitzman, Chief Medical Officer, Wolters Kluwer Health. “Clinical decision support tools have changed the medical industry for the better in many areas, eliminating manual errors and measurably improving quality of care, but all resources are not created equal. This is why it’s critical to always consider the source.”

Among other findings:

  • Among Americans who would rely on the Internet to diagnose an illness, more than three-quarters (77 percent) say they would then discuss the information with their doctor to verify a diagnosis
  •  Only 15 percent of Americans who turn to the Internet for medical information say they at least sometimes misdiagnose themselves
  •   Twenty nine percent of those who go online for medical information, including 38 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 34, cite “accessibility” as the reason they would turn to the Internet versus visiting a doctor to diagnose or treat an illness

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