Asking Google for a diagnosis

More than one-third of Americans consult search engines with medical issues, according to a new report. One in six go online to seek out others with the same health concerns.

By MSN Money Partner Jan 15, 2013 2:34PM

The homepage of the NHS © Photo Illustration by Daniel Berehulak/Getty ImagesBy U.S. News & World Report U.S. News & World Report on MSN Money


If you've ever tried to identify a sniffle, pain or rash with an Internet search, you're not alone.


Thirty-five percent of U.S. adults have jumped online specifically to figure out what medical condition they or another person may have, according to a Pew Research Center survey of about 3,000 people, released today.


Pew refers to these folks that compose the 35% as "online diagnosers," and among them, 53% wound up talking with a clinician about what they found online. Upon doing so, 41% of online diagnosers' condition was confirmed by a clinician.


So where do these people turn for information?


When asked to remember the last time they searched for medical information, 77% said they started with an online search engine such as Google, Bing or Yahoo, while 13% searched a specialized health site like WebMD Health (WBMD).


"Historically, people have always tried to answer their health questions at home and made personal choices about whether and when to consult a clinician," the study authors wrote.


"Many have now added the Internet to their personal health toolbox, helping themselves and their loved ones better understand what might be ailing them," the authors wrote.


Peer-to-peer health care

The report found that women are more likely than men to go online for a possible diagnosis. Other prominent groups include younger people, white adults, those with college or advance degrees and those living in households earning $75,000 a year or more.


Half of all health information searches are on behalf of someone else, the report said, and one in six Internet users said they went online in the last year to find others who might share the same health concerns.


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