Patients increasingly using the internet to self-diagnose, doctors warn

A Generic Photo of a man visiting his doctor.
A Generic Photo of a man visiting his doctor.
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THREE quarters of doctors have seen a “marked increase” in the number of patients using the internet to self-diagnose themselves in the last year, a study has found.

A survey of 300 GPs across the UK revealed 76 per cent had seen a rise in people going online to research suspected conditions before visiting a doctor.

Experts have warned the growth of online data and popularity of health apps on smartphones and tablets are making people “unnecessarily worried”.

It follows another YouGov survey of 2,000 people which found a third of Britons regularly “self-diagnose” on the internet before booking an appointment with a GP, and 15 per cent own a health app.

The survey of GPs was carried ahead of the Astellas Innovation Debate at the Royal Institution of Great Britain on Thursday, which will consider how DNA and “data revolutions” are affecting healthcare.

Some 82 per cent of GPs said they had concerns that the “mass of data and home readings” are making people unnecessarily worried about their health, while 88 per cent agreed it would lead to an increase in “worried well” patients wanting appointments.

One in five said they had seen an increase in the number of patients presenting data generated from health apps and smart devices during appointments, while 15 per cent had seen a rise in patients showing the results of privately paid-for genetic tests. Four in five GPs said that they would struggle to trust its accuracy unless it was validated and from a reliable source.

Professor Lionel Tarassenko, a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Academy of Medical Sciences, said: “Digital health technology is rapidly changing the dynamic between patients and healthcare professionals. With the rise of smartphones, more and more of us are carrying devices in our pockets that can generate huge amounts of data about our health in just seconds.”