Where Do You Get Your Health Information? If You're Young and College-Educated, The Web

Let's face it.  The Internet has become a wonderful resource to look up symptoms and treatment and other health concerns.

But a group of people is taking it too seriously, without making sure of its credibility or accuracy.  Who are they?  Younger, college-educated men and women.

A new study says consumers are increasingly turning to forums, video-sharing sites, and peer support groups to gather anecdotal information and advice, which may distract them from more reliable and trustworthy sources, according to newswise.com.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer nine years ago, I immediately went online the minute it was even suspected I might have it.  Days before my diagnosis, I learned that what was spotted on my mammogram -- calcification -- is 80% of the time completely benign.  It didn't really help me relax all that much, but when it turned out to be malignant instead, I was horribly upset (probably more because of the diagnosis than the information accuracy!).

Thankfully, I've been cancer-free for seven years (it recurred) but I still visit the Web a lot for follow-up on other medical stories, like the one that said I most likely had too much treatment for what turned out to be pre-cancer (but on the verge of becoming metastatic).

“Age, educational levels, and health status were significant predictors of a consumer’s use of anecdotal information available on the Internet,” newswise quotes Kapil Chalil Madathil, a research assistant professor at Clemson University’s Department of Industrial Engineering and a co-author of a book on consumers' use of the anecdotal information available on the Net.

Among more than 3,000 participants, younger consumers who attended four or more years of college were far more likely to reference online anecdotal information than were older individuals with a high school education or less. Additionally, respondents who reported poorer levels of health take to the Internet significantly more often than do those who are healthier, for obvious reasons.

But next time you're considering diagnosing yourself, based on information gleaned from the Internet, try a real doctor instead.

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