This time of year, the flu is a hot search topic online. But should people be matching their symptoms on the web instead of getting checked by a doctor?
A new study shows that 35 percent of American adults try to self diagnose themselves online.
According to Pew Research, when asked if the information found online led them to think they needed the attention of a medical professional, 46 percent of online diagnosers say that was the case.
Thirty-eight percent of online diagnosers say it was something they could take care of at home, and 11 percent say it was both or in-between.
"People look at the internet for their loved ones, their fathers, their mothers, their children. It is not uncommon to see printouts now. It happens multiple times a day that we see someone who's researched online," said Dr. Greg Sweat, with the Shawnee Mission Medical Center.
And when it comes to influenza, Sweat says the web and some rest may be all someone needs.
"If you're pretty healthy, young and you are not over the age of 65 or your child is older than the age of 5, you can pretty much do it at home ... self diagnose and stay at home," he said.
According to the study, 77 percent of the online health seekers say they began at a search engine such as Google, Bing or Yahoo.
Another 13 percent say they began at a site that specializes in health information, like WebMD.
Just 2 percent say they started their research at a more general site like Wikipedia and an additional 1 percent say they started at a social network site like Facebook.
Sweat also suggests using a couple different websites to verify information and match the symptoms, like Shawnee Mission Medical Center, Mayo Clinic and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Online searches usually put people on the right track when it comes to common illnesses, Sweat says.
But other times, Sweat says, people will come in with the most bizarre self-diagnosed illness that doctors rarely see.
"They think they've got, when in actuality they really don't have anything. They just may not be sleeping well," he said.
In any case, researching or trying to self-diagnose can just lead to self education.
"The more educated a patient is, the better it is. The better it is for all of us," Sweat said.
Pew Research surveyed 3,014 adults in the study by phone.
Their findings also found that women are more likely than men to go online to figure out a possible diagnosis.
Other groups that also have a high likelihood of doing so include younger people, white adults, those who live in households earning $75,000 or more, and those with a college degree or advanced degrees, the report states.
"It is important to note what these findings mean – and what they don't mean. 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 authors noted in the report.
The study confirmed that when it came to serious health problems, people's No. 1 choice for care was logging off and going to the doctor.
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