One-third of Americans Turn Online to DiagnoseDo you turn to the Internet to look up symptoms of a disease or condition? How about to diagnose yourself or someone you know?

You’re not alone, according to the Health Online 2013 report out from Pew Internet & American Life Project today. According to their most recent survey of Americans, 35 percent of us have gone online to figure out a medical or health condition.

And, perhaps surprising to no one, 72 percent of Internet users have looking for health information online and most people — 77 percent — start their inquiry at a search engine, like Google or Bing.

Now of those 35 percent who try to figure out a medical condition — online diagnosers, Pew calls them — more than half then take their concern to a health care professional to discuss. In most cases — 59 percent of the time — they turn out to be wrong.

But in 41 percent of cases, the clinician confirms the diagnosis the person had done online. That may seem like an inconsequential number, but it’s not.

You see, one of the big problems we face — especially for mental health concerns — is to get people even to consider talking to a professional about their problem.

What the Internet appears to be doing is helping to jump-start that conversation. Because if people aren’t comfortable enough to consider having the conversation, they may wait until it’s too late (e.g., with things like glaucoma or cancer).

Nobody’s Doing Much Reviewing

Online reviews of doctors, treatments and drugs has been around for nearly a decade now. And despite all that time — and the popularity of general review websites such as Yelp — most people just don’t care about contributing a review that’s health-related.

The Pew Internet report, authored by my colleague Susannah Fox and Maeve Duggan, found that only 3-4 percent of Internet users are likely to post a review of a treatment, hospital or clinician. Compare that to 37 percent who’ve done so for reviews of general products or services (like restaurants or hotels).

And the trend suggests it’s actually getting worse, as fewer people consult such reviews for specific treatments or drugs:

Reviews and Rankings, 2010-2012


The upshot of the report is an important snapshot of what people are doing when they search for online health information. The full report is worth checking out here.