Since people today manage so many elements of their lives online, including their finances and calendars, it’s a logical step for many to turn to the internet to learn about their own health and the health of their loved ones. While it’s always best to consult a healthcare professional for medical information and advice, people are increasingly using online searches as a first step to find healthy living tips, learn about medical conditions, self-assess their ailments, and consider opinions on how to treat them.
In fact, according to a national survey from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, one in three American adults has gone online to figure out what medical condition they (or someone they know) might have. But what does this trend really mean for patient health? The answer isn’t a simple one. Today, we’re going to take a deeper look at some of the benefits of online medical searches, as well as some of the potential risks.
- PROs: One of the main benefits associated with online medical searches is how quickly and easily patients and caregivers can access information. Online search engines put a wealth of medical information at our fingertips – information that can be accessed in an instant, at home or on-the-go, 24 hours a day. It’s clear that internet users are taking advantage of the accessibility of this medical information as a way to educate themselves and take a more active role in their health.
- CONs: However, online medical searches also carry some risk. Not all websites are credible, and it can be difficult to determine which ones you can trust. That said, even when the source is credible, it can still be hard to decipher the medical information provided and determine the appropriate next steps. It’s also important to note that everyone’s individual situation may vary. Online medical searches may also increase some people’s anxiety about their symptoms – Microsoft actually coined the term “cyberchondria” to describe this escalation of concern.
As search engines evolve, so do efforts to provide reliable health information. Google announced earlier this year that it was adding medical facts to its ‘Knowledge Graphs’ for more than 900 health conditions – facts that were compiled with a team of doctors and vetted by the Mayo Clinic. Google also enables users to download and print this information, so they can take it to a doctor for discussion. But they carefully clarify that this “doesn’t mean these search results are intended as medical advice.” It will be interesting to see how new features like this one impact online medical searches moving forward.
At Sanofi, we embrace the internet as a great educational tool. We offer a variety of online resources that help inform patients and caregivers alike. However, we also always encourage people to talk to a doctor about any specific medical questions or concerns. Despite the accessibility of health information online, we realize that doctor-patient dialogue remains critical to the prevention and treatment of medical issues. It’s important to strike a balance – informing yourself online but seeking guidance from a medical professional when needed.
Fortunately, many people today are doing just that, as reflected in the infographic below from the Pew Research Center.
To help ensure you get the most out of your future online medical searches, we compiled a few helpful resources below. We hope you’ll take a look and keep them in mind the next time you’re searching for medical information online.
— NIH NCCIH (@NIH_NCCIH) November 10, 2014
How can you tell whether health info online is credible? Does our Quality Checklist help? Anything we missed? http://bit.ly/8YSYNt #prevwell
— healthfinder.gov (@healthfinder) October 26, 2010
FINALLY find your way to the best medical information online http://t.co/XHOWPxAmhM
— HuffPost Living (@HealthyLiving) August 8, 2013
7 tips for becoming a savvy digital parent http://t.co/v0DXqYqifk
— Kevin Pho, M.D. (@kevinmd) March 24, 2014
When trying to learn more about cancer, getting information from a trusted, credible source is crucial, as we explain http://t.co/LanvynwJV6
— National Cancer Inst (@theNCI) July 20, 2015