More Than Half of Adults Now Prefer Dr. Internet For Health Advice Rather Than Their Own Physicians
As more people are empowering themselves to make their own health decisions, while abandoning toxic pharmaceuticals and conventional medicine, many are going online to self-diagnose rather than waiting for a doctor's appointment. Only one in five people now turn to their doctor to discuss medical matters - only slightly more than the proportion who speak to friends about health problems. More than 78 percent of men and women seeking health advice from the internet can properly diagnose their condition in less than 8 minutes.
The research showed that some people are unable to make appropriate lifestyle changes because they are lacking in knowledge of medical issues. In fact, one in five people - 19 percent - admit they have ‘no idea’ if their diet is healthy, and half are clueless as to the benefits of eating fruit and vegetables.
A similar number, 20 percent, do not look at any nutritional labelling on food, while only a third check the calorie count or fat content.
Women's knowledge of health issues is typically better than men’s and older people - aged 55 plus - are generally better informed than the young.
The research also found that people aged under 45 are much less likely to talk to a doctor, than their parent's generation.
A significant 56 percent of 25 to 34-year-olds consult the internet for health advice, and just 16 per cent would go to their doctor.
According to Andrew Liu, head researcher for the Online Diagnosis Project, "the internet is now the primary point of inquiry for adults and even teenagers with health concerns, and the accuracy of self-diagnosing online is quite surprising," said Liu.
The most common inquiry is searching for symptoms and seeking natural therapies for those symptoms. Liu says this is the most impressive part of his research. "What is most remarkable is that people are not self-medicating with black market drugs, but they are seeking alternative therapies, treatment, supplementation, herbs, and natural remedies to cure or ease their condition," he added.
Liu surveyed more than 28,000 teens and adults through direct questionnaire and found positive and accurate consistencies in diagnoses in approximately 78 percent of respondents. All of those respondents averaged just under 8 minutes in finding their exact symptoms and condition from a variety of websites and internet searches.
Less than 20 percent were found to misdiagnose or misrepresent their condition when they approached their physician. Almost all respondents had the symptoms and associated condition they found online to be confirmed later by their physician. A large percentage, 68% of respondents did not accept medication for their condition from their physician and instead opted for natural therapies.
27 percent of 25 to 34-year-olds say the internet is ‘most influential’ factor for them when they are making lifestyle choices. A doctor is most influential for just 11 percent of people.
‘Others, meanwhile, are talking to family and friends, getting advice from them, and making changes to their exercise regimes or diets as a result.
‘Anything that encourages people to make lifestyle changes for the better has to be a good thing.
‘However, it is essential the information they are relying upon is safe, accurate, and ideally, evidence-based.’
The study also showed that six in ten people - 61 percent - describe their diet as ‘healthy’ or ‘very healthy’ but many say there are barriers to improving.
A third - 35 percent - believe health foods are too expensive, and a fifth - 20 percent - say keeping fit is too time consuming.
Finally, the research revealed that many people have been prompted to change their lifestyle by having children - 35 percent - being pressured by friends - 26 percent - or by getting married - 25 percent.
Natural therapies is where the largest inconsistencies persisted according to Liu. "Most respondents could not consistently conform to any one type of treatment for the same condition," he stated. Those discrepancies may be tied to the wealth of natural therapies available for so many different conditions. Liu emphasized that was due to the nature and diversity of holistic approaches to treatment, the inconsistencies were not suprising.
The most commonly misdiagnosed conditions were cancer (except skin cancer) and hypothyroidism. While the most accurate diagnoses were musculoskeletal and skin conditions (including skin cancer). Other very accurately diagnosed diseases included diabetes, autism spectrum disorder, asthma, bronchitis, sleep disorders, depression, anxiety, influenza, pneumonia, kidney disease, alzheimer's, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, sprains, and strains.
The most common symptoms likely to cause online seekers of diagnoses were migraines, sleeping disorders, depression and anxiety.
Dr Tom Brett, Medical Director at Lloydspharmacy Online Doctor said: ‘There is a wealth of useful information available on the internet to help people research their symptoms.
‘If you do choose to go online for health advice then it’s extremely important to make sure that you use a credible website to carry out your research.
More than half of respondents said they no longer confide in conventional medical advice, pharmaceuticals or mainstream treatments when there are equally effective natural treatments with less side effects. These opinons stemmed from self education and the growing demographic of informed health savvy internet users.
"It's important that we listen to our bodies and although we must be cautious about the information we encounter online, we usually know ourselves better than anybody else, including physicians," concluded Liu.
John Summerly is nutritionist, herbologist, and homeopathic practitioner. He is a leader in the natural health community and consults athletes, executives and most of all parents of children on the benefits of complementary therapies for health and prevention.