According to statistics, every day, the Google search engine receives over 1 billion questions related to health. In other words, this search platform gets about 70,000 requests about health topics every minute. That constitutes about 7% of the overall number of requests. And these data were collected in relatively peaceful pre-pandemic times. Obviously, with the development of the current pandemic, these numbers have grown dramatically.
To prove the popularity of Google, Yahoo!, and other search engines as a medical guide, which is always at hand, we must also provide the statistics on the percentage of patients turning to the Web for health-related information. So, according to the research by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, about 80% of people having access to the Internet use it to find some information about their health. More to the point, there is clear evidence that the demand for such health-related content grows. So, in 2001, when it was harder to get access to the Internet, that figure was just about 62%.
One must note that the term “health-related topics” comprises an extensive scope of diversified issues. So, according to the research mentioned, the biggest part of requests was related to specific diseases and conditions ― 63% of patients. Also, almost half of Internet users (namely, 47%) were interested in specific therapies and medications. However, requests about healthy foods, vitamin use, and diets are also closely connected with health. And they attracted the attention of 44% of respondents. Besides, 36% of respondents searched for materials about exercise. Other popular topics included non-prescription and prescription medications (34%), alternative therapies (38%), insurance (25%), stress and depressive states (21%), specific clinics or medical professionals (21%).
Another curious fact worth mentioning – if one considers all the Internet activities, searching for health-related materials takes the third place after email use and looking for information about specific goods and services.
Health-related Online Sources and Patients
Today, more and more people opt for quick-to-access and charge-free content from the Internet rather than scheduling a paid visit to a doctor, for which they often have to wait for 2–3 weeks. No doubt, reading online health materials cannot substitute a consultation with a professional in all cases. Still, in many common and uncomplicated situations, thematic websites can provide answers to popular questions or at least extra information on specific problems so that patients feel more prepared for an actual consultation with a doctor. The point is that it is almost impossible to schedule a visit to a clinic for the nearest days (except for situations that are really urgent) and living in uncertainty about your health is too stressful. Receiving some additional knowledge about a specific problem may help you feel safer and more comfortable.
However, despite all the advantages, one should use this method of health education with certain caution:
- Reading articles cannot substitute a consultation with a certified professional. No matter how popular or respectful the website is, you should never treat any content published on the Web as medical recommendations or advice and you should never base your decisions on such publications. If, however, you would like to receive an online consultation, then it would be prudent to follow the advice of Canadian family pharmacy on the matter. Here are the steps you have to take:
- Instead of using regular apps, you should opt for using specialized apps including Zoom Healthcare, VSee, and Doxy.me that received HIPAA certification, which guarantees their reliability and non-disclosure of confidential information; unlike the standard alternatives.
- Prepare all the questions that you want to ask ahead of time. You can record them on your smartphone or write them in a notepad.
- Choose a place that has a fast and reliable internet connection, ensuring that nothing will disrupt the video feed.
- You must choose online sources about health with due circumspection. In fact, most websites do not care much about the accuracy or truthfulness of information published, even when it refers to such vulnerable issues as health. Obviously, most online platforms do not invest in hiring medical professionals for creating or at least revising such materials. Hence, it is better to use specialized online sources, which are targeted towards patients and which have positive feedback among readers.
Online Content about Health and Medical Professionals
At first glance, it may seem that, in the future, patients are likely to give up traditional visits to a clinic for consultations with Dr. Google (or another search engine). However, in practice, such a risk is near zero. The overwhelming majority of patients understand that the Web is just an auxiliary source of information about health, not the main one.
Still, today, it is high time for doctors to reconsider the methods they use to communicate and preserve contact with their patients and add online publications to their toolkit. They can use their pages on social media or the websites of their clinics as a platform for distributing some general-audience educational or semi-entertaining materials about the hottest health topics. Nowadays, digital presence is a must for every doctor who wants to stay sought by patients.
There is one more problem worth highlighting – according to the research mentioned, families with an annual income of more than $100,000 use the Internet as a source of information about health 60% more frequently than households making less than $50,000 per year. Sure, there is also a significant gap between opportunities available to people living in big cities and rural areas, as well as between patients of different age groups. Thus, the researchers believe that authorities must take certain decisive steps to provide equal access to the Internet (and, as a result, to essential health-related content) to citizens of all ages and social statuses.
In the end, we would like to highlight once again that thematic online platforms are a valuable source of knowledge about your health when used wisely, so do not miss such an advantageous opportunity.