Donya Currie is the editor of The Free Lance-Star's Healthy Life section and Healthy Life Virginia newsletter.

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One in three adults try to diagnose problems online

Slightly more than a third of American adults have gone online trying to diagnose a medical problem with the Internet’s help, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

I confess: I did it just yesterday, consulting Dr. Google about my youngest daughter’s chronic ankle woes.

In the survey, 46 percent of the diagnosis-seekers said their online discoveries made them think they needed to see a doctor, while 38 percent said they thought they could take care of their problem on their own.

I can’t help but wonder how much financial issues drive people to seek a diagnosis online. Seeing a doctor and potentially undergoing tests requires a financial commitment — unless you’re blessed with a golden insurance plan. Surfing the web doesn’t cost a dime — though obviously, the cost of not getting the proper care can be enormous.

How accurate are online diagnoses?

Forty-one percent of diagnosis-seekers said a doctor confirmed their diagnosis, the survey showed. Another 2 percent said a medical professional partly confirmed it, and 18 percent said the clinician they saw “either did not agree or offered a different opinion about the condition.”

Thirty-five percent of people didn’t bother getting a professional opinion, and 1 percent said they saw a health professional, but didn’t get a conclusive answer.

The risks of web doctoring

The report didn’t address the promise or pitfalls of using the Internet to diagnose a problem, but fortunately, our Healthy Living columnists have weighed in on this. You can read Dr. Christopher Lillis’ column about the Internet’s role in gathering health information here; you can read Dr. Patrick Neustatter’s column about it here.

A big point in Lillis’ column: “Your computer cannot diagnose you. Period. If you look up “headache, causes” not only will you probably soil yourself due to the myriad of life-threatening diagnostic possibilities, but you won’t get any closer to an accurate answer.”

My two cents: Use the Internet to get more details about something you’ve already been diagnosed with. And good luck resisting the urge to investigate your symptoms online. Just keep in mind that while you can get some mighty good information online, no website can replace advice from a medical professional who’s actually seen you and checked you out.