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Healthy interest: Why are more people turning to the Internet for health advice?

Consumers in the U.S. are 50 percent more likely to turn to the Internet than a medical professional for health and wellness advice.

Consumers in the U.S. are 50 percent more likely to turn to the Internet than a medical professional for health and wellness advice.
Consumers in the U.S. are 50 percent more likely to turn to the Internet than a medical professional for health and wellness advice.

Whether the volume of reliable and vetted sources on the Internet has increased or instead there is more access to misinformation is the subject of recurrent debate. Such debates do not impact on all consumers, and there is evidence that  more people are using it to seek out health advice than perhaps ever before.

In fact, recent research shows 2 in 5 people opt for a general online search when seeking advice for a physical illness. The same review of digital health also found that 3 in 5 people with self-reported poor mental health are more likely to check online than with a professional for health advice.

This is part of changes in the digitalisation of healthcare. Digital health is about the use of information and communications technologies in medicine. It is also about a diversification of information strands that people will use to manage illnesses and health risks and to promote wellness, either within, in partnership to, or separate from the medical establishment.

Does this represent a trend of people opting to learn more and, at the same time, avoiding visiting doctors? Is there evidence that consumers are turning online for health advice instead?

The study comes from Power Clinical Trials. Here researchers surveyed over 1,000 people to better understand where people are turning to for health advice and why.

The findings demonstrated that consumers in the U.S. are 50 percent more likely to turn to the Internet than a medical professional for health and wellness advice.

So, why would people be wary of visiting a doctor? The top reasons that people are avoiding seeking direct health advice include the perception that it takes too much time (cited by 46 percent of the respondents). This was followed by medical care, as based on the U.S.’s costly, market system, being considered too expensive (as mentioned by 42 percent of the survey group).

More concerningly for attempts to spearhead in digital government, 74 percent of people do not feel government websites are a trustworthy source for health advice. This is despite health websites sponsored by Federal Government agencies being good sources of information.

There is a gap between perception and reality and the mistrust of U.S. government services was high. It was particularly evident in the case of the marketing demographic ‘Gen Zers’. With this population slice, 9 in 10 stated they turn to social media for health and wellness advice.

The downside with this approach is that online health research can lead to an inaccurate self-diagnosis.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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