Power to the people: Online medical diagnosis is here to stay.

Online medical adviceWith the plethora of medical information websites now available, the results of the Pew Research Center’s recent survey on online medical diagnosis behaviors by “Jane and John Q. Public” comes as little surprise.

The research, part of Pew’s Internet & American Life Project, found that ~35% of U.S. adults surveyed reported that they’ve used the web to try to figure out what medical condition they may have … or have done so for a friend or family member.

Pew calls these people “online diagnosers.” Of these, a plurality (~46%) reported that their online research led them to conclude that they needed the attention of a medical professional.

And what about the accuracy of their initial diagnoses? Here’s what the Pew survey revealed:

  • A medical professional confirmed their diagnosis: ~48%
  • A medical professional did not agree … or offered a different opinion about the condition: ~18%
  • The medical professional’s view was inconclusive: ~1%
  • A medical professional or clinician wasn’t visited to get a professional opinion: ~35%

The Pew survey also found that certain sectors of the public more inclined tap online resources for diagnosing a medical condition. These segments include:

  • Women
  • Younger age groups (35 or lower)
  • Those with college or advanced degrees
  • Those part of households earning $75,000+ in annual income

Lest you think that the explosion of websites specializing in health information — including the ever-growing array of hospital websites – are the ones spurring the online activity, the Pew survey clearly finds that the standard search engines are where most of the action is happening:

  • Google, Bing or Yahoo-type search engine sites: ~77%
  • WebMD or other health information-type sites: ~13%
  • Wikipedia: ~2%
  • Facebook or other social-type sites: ~1%

Some hospitals are near-obsessive about their patient satisfaction ratings and achieving high quality scores from third-party ratings firms like Press-Ganey. But the Pew survey finds that a distinct minority of health consumers takes the time and trouble to consult such reporting: Only about one in five survey respondents reported consulting online reviews of pharmaceuticals, medical treatments, physicians, or hospitals.

And practically no one posts online reviews of their own about healthcare services or health providers.

Here’s one final piece of information from the Pew survey: Despite the fact that people who search for health information often do so out of a concern for their own health or the health of a family member, that doesn’t mean that they’re willing to pay for the privilege of accessing the information.

To begin with, only around one-quarter of the Pew respondents reported that they had been asked to pay to access the health-related information they wished to see online.

Their reaction when confronted with such a pay wall? Do everything possible to avoid shelling out any money:

  • ~83% attempted to find the information somewhere else without having to pay
  • ~13% gave up searching entirely
  • Just 2% decided to pay for the information

So even in circumstances as fundamental as those involving health, it would seem that information in cyberspace “wants to be free.”

One thought on “Power to the people: Online medical diagnosis is here to stay.

  1. This is an interesting article and our studies show similar results. To improve the accuracy of our online symptom checker results and create a better experience for the user, we constantly adjust the diagnoses our tool delivers.

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