A trend among the British people to self-diagnose is only serving to reinforce the value of private healthcare. A 2020 study shows that nearly a third (59%) of people are Googling their health symptoms before even attempting to contact a GP.
These are worrying statistics, especially when instances of suspected ill health are so frequent. People in the UK worry about their health an average of 1.6 times each week but a third (30%) of survey respondents said that Googling their symptoms makes them feel more anxious. A further 22% said that it has a negative impact on their mental health. With anxiety the third most Googled symptom, this attempt to self-diagnosis is likely to only exacerbate the issue as well as the wider mental health crisis.
There is also the very real risk that physical or mental health conditions will go undiagnosed if people are worried to look beyond Google and speak to a real-life healthcare professional. Self-diagnosis also increases the risk of incorrect diagnosis especially among those desperate for answers. This is a slippery slope as both lack of and the wrong diagnosis mean that individuals may be taking medication for no reason. This is at best unhelpful and at worst, dangerous.
With around 20 million people relying on Google to “solve” their health issues, this is especially concerning as the survey showed that a substantial number go on to buy medicine based on their self-diagnosis (45% of 16-24-year-olds and 32% of 35 to 44 year-olds).
Incorrect diagnosis also risks leaving more serious health issues to fester leading to a potentially more complex route to recovery later down the line. In the case of more serious illness, this could be a matter of life or death. There is also the other side of the coin, where minor physical health symptoms are misinterpreted as serious illness and incorrect action is taken as a result.
The COVID-19 Impact
COVID-19 has only made things worse. The isolation of lockdown and the concerns people have with accessing healthcare are evident. This has come to fruition in the fact that a third of those surveyed admit to worrying about putting more pressure on the NHS. Instead, they are choosing to turn to the internet to try and fix the problem themselves which has fuelled instances of cyberchondria. This is an increasingly prevalent condition defined as anxiety caused by people excessively searching the internet for answers to their health issues.
With threats to our health and our own vulnerability under the spotlight more than ever before, those who already suffered from anxiety disorders are extremely vulnerable to the media frenzy and wild rumours surrounding coronavirus. Among a consistent lack of concrete information and ever-changing news about the pandemic, psychiatrists have also noticed that cyberchondria is now manifesting in people who never even had a history of anxiety prior to COVID-19.
With people Googling their symptoms, this becomes a catch 22 as cyberchondria is notable for its compulsive, addictive nature. The more that people Google, the less likely they are to find a solid and reliable answer, only to be left with a heightened sense of anxiety and a more serious issue.
This is where the true value of private medical insurance (PMI) comes under the spotlight. The speed and relative ease at which you can be seen by a professional and gain a diagnosis is invaluable. Since COVID-19, healthcare providers have expanded their services to cater to those in lockdown. This includes virtual GP services, additional mental health support and online specialist services.
By offering the option for those worried about their symptoms to speak to someone without even leaving the security of their home, private healthcare taps into a huge need. It gives peace of mind to those frantically trying to self-diagnose and quicker answers to their concerns with the invaluable reassurance of qualified, professional advice.
It should be noted that using the internet to investigate your healthcare concerns is not always a bad thing. However, it should only be used to give you some ideas before speaking to a healthcare professional. Use reputable sites such as the NHS or Public Health London, and never take any action based on your findings before speaking with your GP.
For advice and support with finding the right private healthcare plan for you, your family or your business, contact our team today.