Nation of ‘cyberchondriacs’ consult Dr Google for diagnosis

31 Aug 2011

Nation of 'cyberchondriacs' consult Dr Google for diagnosis

Almost half of Irish people find that the cost of attending their GP is encouraging them to consult the internet instead for medical diagnosis. Over 60pc of Irish women up to 44 years use the internet to avoid the expense of a GP visit.

A study of 1,000 people by Quinn-healthcare has found that men are not far behind with 50pc of males in the same age group using the internet to diagnose ailments and save on the cost of a GP visit.

The study found that 45pc of the population would use a phone service or web chat for consultations if their GP offered it, with Dublin respondents being most positive on these methods of consultation (52pc).

Some 53pc of females aged between 35-44 use the internet for a second opinion and as a tool to challenge GP diagnosis. On average 35pc of the population believe the Internet is a trustworthy source of medical information, with young men being the biggest believers (48pc).

More than 55pc of younger males, and also 54pc of women aged between 35-44 would consult the Internet rather than their GP if suffering from an embarrassing medical problem.

Dr David Ward of Quinn-healthcare’s GP Helpline said: “In these financially challenging times, people need to make their money stretch further, even when it comes to their health. Offerings like the GP Helpline make it possible to do this and also enable customers to save time by picking up a telephone for peace of mind.”

“As the research suggests, the Internet is also being used by people to save money and while it is a significant source of information it should be treated with caution and used in conjunction with advice from a trained medical professional.

“Other forms of communication technology are also having an impact on the healthcare sector, including text message (SMS) alerts from chemists when prescriptions are ready and virtual doctor visits via Skype. Both are emerging trends in the US and the UK. I could certainly see this trend catching on in particular in rural Ireland and more generally if we are in for another winter of extremely cold weather,” Dr Ward said.

Appetite for innovation in digital healthcare

There is an appetite for innovation in this area with 45pc of respondents saying they would avail of a phone service or web chat to discuss their ailments if their GP offered it.

And when it comes to embarrassing medical problems, this increases to more than 55pc for younger males and women aged 35 to 44 who would all favour an alternative means of consultation. In this situation the majority of those surveyed would prefer to consult the Internet rather than their GP.

In 2009 Quinn-healthcare launched a GP Helpline with 24 hour access to qualified doctors by phone. In 2010 72pc of calls resulted in no onward referral to another healthcare professional, resulting in an average saving of €51, which is the average cost of a GP visit in Ireland.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years