Research reveals 1 in 3 Aussies have self-diagnosed using the internet; 
doctor warns of health impacts

A doctor is warning the public about the serious risks of self-diagnosing after new research revealed 30 per cent of Australians have diagnosed an illness through online research, and 45 per cent of these have chosen medications themselves to address the illness.

The findings were derived from a survey of an independent panel of 1001 Australians, commissioned by leading Australian telehealth service InstantScripts. The full survey results, including breakdowns across State and age, can be found here: instantscripts.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/IS22010_white-paper_v4.pdf. Dr Andrew Thompson, a registered doctor at InstantScripts, says self-diagnosing can compromise one’s health and lead to worse health outcomes, particularly if the diagnosis is later found to be inaccurate.

The survey found that, among the respondents who admitted to self-diagnosing in the past through online research, 45 per cent treated themselves for their condition, including with over-the-counter medicines.

Dr Thompson says: “It is important for Australians to be aware of the risks of self-diagnosing. It’s understandable if an individual diagnoses a painful ankle as a sprain, for instance, but there are symptoms such as abdominal pain and heart pain that can’t be diagnosed without a medical test, and could be very serious. Ultimately, a misdiagnosis followed by incorrect medication could risk complications, worsen an existing health condition, and lead to side effects.

“A delay in receiving the correct diagnosis from a medical professional can also worsen the condition, lead to more severe and possibly longer-term health problems, and in some cases, a fatality. A misdiagnosis can also place individuals and their families under unnecessary stress, along with financial costs. Patients may also invest time and finances into seeking unnecessary self-tests.”

InstantScripts also asked respondents why they had chosen to self-diagnose, from a list of seven reasons (respondents could choose more than one answer). The majority – 65 per cent – said they trust their instincts about their own health and, combined with online research, were confident they could find out what health issue they had.

One in four (27 per cent) said they trust the information they source online is accurate and reliable.

Access to doctors was another reason: 18 per cent of respondents had trouble accessing a doctor before they self-diagnosed, and 12 per cent did not have a regular doctor they trust. One in five (21 per cent) did not want to visit a doctor during the pandemic.

Some respondents have had poor experiences with medical professionals: 13 per cent said they self-diagnosed because they were unable to get a diagnosis for their illness, and 22 per cent said they had been misdiagnosed by a health professional in the past. 

Dr Thompson says, in his experience, the aforementioned factors are often the reasons preventing them from sourcing a reliable, professional diagnosis. “It is concerning to discover that many Australians have had trouble accessing healthcare. Patients in regional and rural areas, where GP wait lists are blown out due to a shortage of permanent doctors, may have challenges in finding a regular doctor. However, online information cannot be assumed to be relevant to an individual’s symptoms, neither does it take into account a patient’s family history, medical history and other factors that can impact a diagnosis.

“Unfortunately, another downside to self-diagnosing is the potential impact on the doctor-patient relationship. Patients can become fixated on certain symptoms or a particular diagnosis and may be unwilling to accept a professional, accurate diagnosis as a result.

“I urge individuals to always seek professional advice from a doctor or GP. Those who don’t have a regular doctor or struggle to access healthcare could seek telehealth services such as InstantScripts, which are available after hours and are affordable. Sourcing a regular doctor or making the conscious effort to seek regular health check-ups can help Australians better manage all aspects of their health and combat and manage potential illnesses early and effectively.”

The full survey results, including breakdowns across State and age, can be found here: instantscripts.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/IS22010_white-paper_v4.pdf

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