January 17 (By Sasha Horne for RIA Novosti) - Is that chest pain you feel heart burn or something more serious? Is that cough, just a cold or something more? To get a diagnosis, a growing number of Americans are skipping the doctor’s office and turning to the internet instead, according to a study released this week.
One in three American adults has gone online to figure out a medical condition, analysts with the Pew Research Center said in a report.
While 41 percent of online diagnosers sought out a medical professional to confirm their findings, 35 percent said they did not visit a doctor to get a professional opinion, a finding medical professionals said can have serious implications.
“I think there is definitely value in people seeking out more information about their health as long as they are using a reputable website to gather their information,” Dr. Robert Hart, an internal medicine physician and regional medical director at the Ochsner Health System in Baton Rouge, Louisiana told RIA Novosti.
But Hart warned there are risks associated with turning to the internet for answers, especially when patients do not follow up with a medical professional.
“There are multiple diseases that have very similar symptoms,” Hart said.
And while medical professionals complete years of training to help them understand the difference between ailments like a sore throat versus strep throat, a patient gathering information online can easily mistake one for the other, Hart said.
Emotions can also cloud a patient’s judgment, for example a person might convince themselves they simply have heartburn when really they are on the verge of having a heart attack.
“If you are not objective in evaluating the group of symptoms, you may arrive at a different conclusion than a person who is trained in medicine and trained to make these evaluations,” said Hart.
“Historically, people have always tried to answer their health questions at home and made personal choices about whether and when to consult a clinician,” the Pew study said. “Many have now added the internet to their personal health toolbox, helping themselves and their loved ones better understand what might be ailing them.”
The study also found that women were more likely than men to become online diagnosers, as well as younger people, those who live in households earning $75,000 or more, and those with a college or advanced degree.
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