More than one in 10 people in the U.S. believe they would be dead today, or severely incapacitated, if not for access to Web-based health information, according to a consumer survey by health technology provider Philips Healthcare.
The survey showed that 11% of respondents felt they owed their life to online health information sites, such as WebMD, and mobile apps, such as iTriage.
The survey, conducted Nov. 15-18 with Opinion Research Corp., involved a national sample of 1,003 adults -- 503 men and 500 women 18 or older -- living in the continental United States.
The Philips survey results are in line with other independent surveys. For example, the Pew Research Center published survey results last year that were similar to Philips' findings.
The Pew survey showed that 66% of Internet users look online for information about a specific disease or medical problem.
According to WebMD, the leading medical terms people search for on the Web include: shingles, the gallbladder, gout, hemorrhoids, lupus, skin problems, allergies, heart disease, diabetes and sleep disorders.
The groups doing the most research on diseases and symptoms online were caregivers; women; Internet users with a college degree; and Internet users living with chronic conditions (particularly those with high blood pressure), according to Pew's survey. Three-quarters of the people in each of those groups look online for disease and symptom health information.
In Philips Healthcare's survey, 41% of respondents said they were familiar with sites that allow them to check health symptoms; the same number also said they're "comfortable" with the information they find on those websites.
A quarter of those surveyed also said they trust symptom checker websites, symptom checker mobile apps or home-based vital sign monitors as much as they do their doctor, and about an equal proportion often use these resources instead of going to the doctor, Philips said.
While Americans are comfortable with symptom checker mobile apps, fewer like the idea of those apps automatically sharing information with doctors. Around half of respondents (55%) are comfortable using symptom checker mobile apps that send data to their doctor. Slightly less, 52%, are comfortable using home-based vital sign monitors that automatically share data with their doctor.
According to the survey, men are more likely than women to trust online and mobile apps as much as they do a doctor; 28% of men said they trusted the technology compared with 21% of women.
"We are in the early stages of the Web-enabled, mHealth, mobile app world of healthcare delivery," said Dr. Eric Silfen, chief medical officer of Philips Healthcare. "Near-future apps will focus on tying together health information technologies, connecting with doctors, nurses, healthcare professionals and patients, all within a social context that facilitates shared medical decision-making."
Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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