One in three adults go online to diagnose ailments

77% of online diagnosers used Google or another search engine

More than one-third of U.S. adults have turned to the Internet to diagnose medical conditions for themselves or others, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.

For the report, researchers surveyed 3,014 U.S. adults by telephone in August and September of last year. They found that 35% of U.S. adults said they had used the Internet to search for a medical diagnosis. Of those individuals:

  • 41% said that a clinician confirmed their findings;
  • 35% said that they did not seek a clinician's professional opinion;
  • 18% said that a clinician either disagreed with their findings or offered a different opinion about the condition;
  • 2% said that a clinician partially confirmed their findings; and
  • 1% said that their conversation with a clinician was inconclusive.
  • Of the U.S. adults who search for health information online:
  • 77% said they started at a search engine such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo;
  • 13% said they started at a health information website such as WebMD;
  • 2% said they started at a general website like Wikipedia; and
  • 1% said they started at a social networking website like Facebook.

According to the report, individuals who are most likely to look up diagnoses online are:

  • Women;
  • Younger individuals;
  • White adults;
  • College graduates; and
  • Those with annual household incomes higher than $75,000.

Susannah Fox—associate director of Pew's Internet and American Life Project and author of the report –said that the Internet often serves as a "de facto second opinion" on medical issues.

Rahul Parikh, a pediatrician in California, said that people who go online for medical advice run the risk of finding inaccurate information. However, Parikh said, "I would encourage people to search more, rather than less," and to consult a doctor about the information they find (Tavernise, "Well," New York Times, 1/15; Paddock, Medical News Today, 1/15; Pew report, 1/15; Dolan, MobiHealthNews, 1/15).



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