IBM study shows Canadians using Web more for self-diagnosis

Toronto, ON – March 8, 2006 – A growing number of Canadians are researching health information on the Internet to diagnose their own medical conditions, says HealthInsider, a national survey by IBM.

IBM’s latest health survey of 2,500 Canadians found of those who used the Internet to obtain health information, 37 percent had done so in an attempt to diagnosis themselves. This is a 48 percent increase over 2003.

Additionally, more than a quarter of those seeking health information looked to confirm or question their physician’s diagnosis. The study also revealed the number of Canadians using the Internet to check the results of medical research, speak to others with the same health condition or to manage a health condition has increased since 2003.

“The Internet has become the main source of health information for approximately three in 10 Canadians,” said Neil Stuart, a partner in IBM Business Consulting Services’ healthcare practice.

“In 2003, the Internet surpassed the physician as Canada’s primary source for health information. Now we see a trend toward Canadians using physicians and the Internet equally, indicating online medical information is being used more prudently.”

While more Canadians are using the Internet for diagnostic purposes, the vast majority feel it is difficult to determine which information found online can be trusted and that the quality of medical information on the Internet needs to be improved, the study said.

The top criteria used to determine the validity of the health information on a particular Web site are: endorsement by a recognized expert or authority; an affiliation with a credible health organization (such as a medical school); or third-party content control (such as accreditation by the government).

Canadians use the Internet to get health information because it’s convenient, with 44 percent of respondents saying that it was “easy and simple to get health information online,” and 30 percent saying online information is “accessible 24 hours a day.”

Other findings of interest:

  • Those who use the Internet in Ontario are most likely to use it to get health information, and Saskatchewan Internet users are the least likely
  • Of the Canadians who obtained health information on the Internet, almost 50 percent in B.C. and Ontario spoke with their doctors about the health information they found online, compared to 42 percent in Alberta and 38 percent in Saskatchewan
  • While Internet use was highest among Canadians age 15-24, this group used the Internet the least to find health information
  • Males and females reported similar rates of Internet use, but females were more likely to search for health information online

About HealthInsider

HealthInsider is one of the most comprehensive consumer reports currently available to the Canadian healthcare industry, providing subscribers in-depth data and analysis on consumer attitudes toward health policies, programs, products and services. HealthInsider surveys 2,500 Canadians, with a national margin of error of plus or minus 1.9 percentage points in 19 samples out of 20.

For more information, visit IBM Canada’s National Survey Centre.