Paging Doctor Firefox

May 26, 2011

The fastest way to turn a common headache into a brain tumor is to investigate symptoms on WebMD.  Apparently, this is not dissuading internet users from slapping a white coat and stethoscope onto their computers.  “Pew Finds One in Four Track Their Health Information Online” provides more insight into just how engaged individuals are with online health info and the art of self-diagnosis.

We learned from the write up some interesting factoids based on a sample of 3,001 Americans:

  • One in four Internet users are starting to track their own health information—including blood pressure, symptoms, diet, blood sugar levels and exercise routine—online
  • 80 percent of Internet users, or 59 percent of all adults, have researched health topics online, and 34 percent have read about health online on a newsgroup, Website or blog
  • One in three caregivers use the Internet to look up drug reviews
  • Internet users with chronic conditions such as diabetes or hypertension are also more likely to look up health information

The driving force seems to be “feedback loops”. A rough analogy to using a social network to get information about a condition. My mother talked to the neighbors over the back yard fence. Now online communities perform a similar function.

If accurate, these data may be that asking a “friend” provides a measuring stick for others with similar issues.  An example from the article details that using loops for obtaining information can be effective in explaining why two donuts for breakfast today and result in clogged arteries tomorrow.

We are relived to see the results don’t yet indicate that individuals are entering health data into the cyberspace, only searching for information.  And there is a disclaimer, stating that “although Americans are seeking support and feedback from peers online, they mainly consult with their physician’s offline.”

I’ve coincidentally come down with the same respiratory infection a good contingent of the city is suffering from now, and as tempting as it is to trust the blogosphere and the halls of online forums, I think I will instead be paying a visit to my doctor this afternoon. For now, no Dr. Facebook or Dr. Google for me.

Sarah Rogers, May 26, 2011



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