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Aussies turning to cyberspace to self-diagnose

Australians are risking their health by relying on unreliable online information to self-diagnose medical conditions, potentially causing them to dismiss serious symptoms or seek inappropriate treatments.

International Bupa Health Pulse* research has found that of the nearly 80% of Australians who admitted to going online for health information, nearly half (47%) look for information to make a self-diagnosis while 70% use the internet to research medicines.

Australians also have a desire to use online sources to help them manage their own health, with 61% of respondents supportive of having access to a secure internet site where they can access their own medical records and test results online.

Dr Christine Bennett, Chief Medical Officer of Bupa Australia, said the results highlight the importance of people accessing online information from high-quality, credible resources.

“While the internet undoubtedly provides people with greater access to resources, it’s essential that they access high-quality websites and content to empower them to make informed decisions about their health,” she said.

“A simple search for the same symptom can often generate quite different diagnoses across different websites, which may result in people dismissing serious symptoms or commencing inappropriate treatments,” Bennett said.

Bupa Health Pulse used a search engine to look-up a number of different symptoms. The risks of self-diagnosing online were clear – entering one symptom led to three different websites, providing very different results:

 Symptom  Potential health conditions suggested by different websites for one symptom
 Website A  Website B  Website C
 Pins and needles  Vitamin B12 deficiency  Sciatica  Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
 Stomach cramps  Indigestion  Appendicitis  Heart disease or angina
 Earache  Common cold  Ear infection  Brain abscess
 Blurred vision  Presbyopia  Glaucoma  Cataracts
 Rash  Contact dermatitis  Psoriasis or eczema  Meningitis

Other key findings from Bupa Health Pulse included:

  • On an international scale, nearly 7 in 10 (68%) respondents have used the internet to look for information about a medicine and nearly half to make a self-diagnosis (46%).
  • Approximately a third (34%) of Aussies interviewed would like to have the ability to text an image of their problem to receive a diagnosis, while 45% would like to have access to their doctor by email.
  • More than half (56%) the Australians surveyed would like to be able to book a doctor’s appointment online, while 52% would like to order repeat prescriptions online.
  • Respondents from the US and UK are most likely to have looked for information online to make a self-diagnosis (58% of both populations have done this), followed by China and Russia (both 56%), and Australia and Italy (47%).

Bupa’s tips when looking for health information online:

  1. Check the quality: Look for websites that display an established mark of quality, or feature an endorsement from a government body or respected national health organisation. Remember that different countries have a different quality mark, as what is established medical practice in one country may not be so in another.
  2.  Check the date: Some medical advice may become “out of date” often replaced by new evidence, new medicines, new tests, and new theories, within a few years, so it’s important to check when the health information was published. Also look for details regarding when the webpage was created and last updated. As a general rule of thumb, health information that is more than two years old should be considered out-of-date.
  3. Check for an ‘About Us’ section: It is important to find out who runs a health website and why. Reputable websites will make it clear whether or not the authors are suitably qualified to provide the information and whether there is an editorial process to produce factual content (rather than promotional content or online advertisements).
  4.  Improve your search: when looking for health information online it’s important to be as specific as possible with your search terms as this makes it more likely that you will find what you are looking for quickly.
  5. Choose wisely: Even if your search finds a website which looks promising, it is worth checking where the information has come from.
  6. Speak to your doctor: You should raise any serious concerns regarding your health with your doctor.

The following websites provide health and wellness information:
www.bupa.com.au/Bupa/health-and-wellness
www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au
www.health.harvard.edu/
www.healthinsite.gov.au
www.heartfoundation.org.au

View the London School of Economics report Online Health: Untangling the Web (PDF 1.1Mb)

– Ends –

Notes to Editors:

*Ipsos MORI interviewed 12,262 members of the general public across 12 countries for Bupa Health Pulse between 10 June and 14 July 2010. These were: Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Spain, UK and USA. All interviews took place through Ipsos online panels and Ipsos panel partners.

For all media inquiries, please contact:

Stella Tilkeridis 
Media and Corporate Communications Adviser
Phone: 61 3 9937 4082
Mobile: 0400 120 978

About Bupa Australia Bupa Australia Pty Ltd (“Bupa Australia”) is a leading healthcare company. With a presence in every Australian state and territory, the company operates under the brands, MBF, HBA, and Mutual Community, proudly covering more than three million Australians.

 Bupa Australia is focused on providing sustainable health insurance that represent real value to customers, and on leading the industry in the promotion of preventive health and wellness. Bupa Australia’s products and services include cover for hospital, medical, ancillary and ambulance services, as well as travel, life, and home insurance, and access to life insurance products. 

As part of the international Bupa Group, Bupa Australia draws on the strength and expertise of an international healthcare leader. The Bupa Group covers more than10 million people in approximately 190 countries and provides other health and financial services to many more millions of customers around the globe.