Digital dianosis: Why doctors encourage online searches

(CBS News) It's a sign of our digital times: More and more people are going online to check symptoms of illness before calling the doctor.

According to one recent study, nearly three-quarters of Web users in this country, 72 percent, searched for medical information in the past year with one-third trying to figure out a medical condition.

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Surprisingly, more and more doctors are fine with it and have significantly shifted their view on patients that symptom-surf. One major reason for this is that many medical websites and symptom-checkers are getting more advanced. They are getting more comprehensive and up-to-date.

Also, physicians themselves are turning to the Web more and more, so they are familiar with what is out there.

"I think it's personal bias. Doctors spend an average of 12 to 18 hours a week doing medical work and getting medical information from the Internet," said CBS News contributor Dr. Holly Phillips on "CBS This Morning: Saturday." "In fact, it's the first place I turn if I have a tough diagnosis. I think we're all using it and we're all getting used to that idea.

Patients are also becoming more Web savvy and are able to have easier time identifying accurate information. However, Phillips cautioned that this type of searching cannot replace a doctor and there are a few ways to ensure that you are finding helpful facts.

More than one-third of U.S. adults use Internet to diagnose medical condition

She suggests looking at sites from established institutions, to steer clear of commercial sites and to beware of bias.

"We're really going to look for sites that have big names, things like the National Institutes of Health. They have an amazing site. It's part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. You can really find comprehensive information here," said Phillips. "Also, sites like WebMD and Mayo Clinic are incredibly friendly, easy to use sites that are great for symptom-checking."

For Dr. Holly Phillips' full interview, watch the video in the player above.

  • Shoshana Davis

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