Business of Health Care: Internet Self-Diagnosing

Jul 26, 2019

With nearly half of privately insured Americans on high-deductible health plans now, the Internet - a free resource available virtually anywhere - has taken on an even greater role in the health care continuum.

And that's not necessarily a good thing. More than half of patients use online health resources as a substitute for a primary care provider. This can lead to people avoiding a needed trip to the doctor.

One survey found that one out of four patients trust online symptom checkers, mobile apps, and home-based vital-sign monitors as much as they trust their doctor. 

But a separate survey underscores the hubris of some patients when it comes to self-diagnosis.

Of those surveyed who said they "always" or "frequently" go online for answers to medical questions...

…about two out of three said they trust the information, with the same proportion claiming to have never misdiagnosed themselves when they rely on the Internet.

However, research indicates that a patient’s ability to self-diagnose is no better than a flip of the coin – 50/50.

During a focus group with physicians about patients who use the Internet to self-diagnose, physicians often characterized these patients as being challenging.

Physicians felt as though they had to defend their diagnosis and treatment plan against what the patient found online, because often the patient didn’t have the right information or didn’t understand how to interpret it.

While the Internet shouldn’t be used in place of a qualified medical professional to determine a diagnosis, it can be helpful to find out more after a diagnosis is made.