Time to See Your Doctor – Or Just Google?

Got a mole on your shoulder that looks a little fishy? Be honest – what’s your first inclination? Call your dermatologist’s office and make an appointment or search for health information online?

If you answered the latter, you are not alone. According to a Pew Internet and American Life Project’s Health Online 2013 report, 59% of American adults have searched online for health information in the past year and 35% of American adults have looked online specifically to diagnose a medical condition. Of these, half followed up with a medical professional. 41% of those who diagnosed themselves online had their condition confirmed by a clinician.

Interestingly, women are more likely than men to look for a possible diagnosis online. Younger people (between 18-29), white adults, those with college or advanced degrees, and those who live in households earning $75,000 or more were the most likely to go online to figure out a diagnosis.

People didn’t just go online to research a possible condition. They also looked to connect with others who share their condition. “Sixteen percent of Internet users have gone online to find someone who shares their same health condition,” said lead researcher Susannah Fox. “People are finding utility and information in what can be shared online, outside of a clinical encounter [with a physician].”

Eight out of every 10 online health inquiries start at a search engine, the study found, with about half of the searches conducted on behalf of someone else.

Do you trust the health information you find online?