Study: Almost half of all Americans rely on online medical information

Published: May. 5, 2023 at 9:16 AM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - A new survey released this week finds almost half of us rely primarily on online medical information instead of primary care doctors - but are online searches and algorithms really your best choice for medical advice?

Online medical advice through search engines, AI programs like Chat GPT, or websites can help you explain weird symptoms, but can also lead you down the wrong road.

“If you haven’t been in medicine, some of the search terms you put in to the algorithms may not be enough information or the right information. So, I think having that personal touch with a physician, coming well-prepared, I think you can have the best relationship possible with your primary care physician,” recommends Dr. Irfan Asif, a primary care physician at UAB.

New research finds the average American self-diagnosed a medical issue using online information 4 times in the past year.

“You might be able to get the information online in a way that shows you “here are the facts,” but being able to translate those facts--” that’s where Dr. Asif says a relationship with your doctor where you can talk in person and they know your history can mean the difference between tailored and efficient care and unnecessary or even wrong treatments.

“As with any patient when they come in with information, I want them to be careful,” Dr. Asif advises. “The information online doesn’t have that human touch. There are limitations on what Google or ChatGPT might have in their algorithm that might lead you to potentially get some answers that don’t make sense, some answers that might lead you to more testing and you don’t know what that leads to. It could be higher costs, information you don’t know what to do with that can lead to unnecessary procedures.”

So what does a healthy relationship with your doctor look like? Dr. Asif says it means coming into your appointment well-informed, but also open to multiple ideas.

“Someone who’s coming in well-informed, I think we can make the most of our time together. That way they come in with the ‘here are the 2, 3, 4 questions I might have,’ and we can have a targeted conversation about how I can counsel those patients.”

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