Media releases

August 26, 2013

Australians are embarrassed by health concerns and rely on advice from the Internet

Australians are looking for health advice in all the wrong places as they are often too embarrassed or just don't have time to talk to a medical expert or get an appointment. New research reveals 3 out 4 of us have searched for our own symptoms online, whilst 1 in 10 prefer to do nothing and just worry.

Marking the launch of 'Talk To An Expert Week' (26th-31st August), research from the Medibank 24/7 Health Advice Line has highlighted an alarming tendency for people to seek health advice from the nearest possible places; the Internet, family and even social media. Whilst this isn't always bad, 1 in 5 people have admitted to misdiagnosing themselves and this has worried medical experts. Information and a video narrated by Mia Freedman, which raises awareness of the issue, can be viewed on from the 26th August.

The research also found 63% of 18-24 years olds would still prefer to search symptoms for sexual health online rather than talk to an expert and 1 in 10 have turned to friends for health advice on Facebook. The social networking site is increasingly being used to swap health advice across all ages, with nearly a third (28%) noticing health topics being discussed. The most common subjects being discussed are children's health, colds and fevers.

On top of embarrassment and lack of time, the main reasons people don't seek medical advice are because it's too hard to get an appointment (33%), they're too busy (29%), or they can't get time off work (15%). These reasons have driven nearly half (42%) the country to keep silent about their health worries and tell no one at some point. The survey also revealed that, given access to a 24/7 health advice line, 66% would be more likely to use it.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Cindy Pan, medical practitioner, best-selling author and media personality says:

"It's concerning that despite having some of the best medical services in the world, Australians are sometimes relying on the Internet and other sources for health advice rather than seeking expert medical advice from a GP or health professional.

"I'm sure many people have had the experience of looking up symptoms online and jumping to incorrect and sometimes alarming conclusions. Conversely, some people ignore their symptoms resulting in undue delays in diagnosis of important health conditions that might have been far more easily resolved if recognised at an earlier stage.

"'Talk To An Expert Week' is about raising awareness of these issues and encouraging anyone who's feeling unwell or worried about a physical or mental health issue to see their GP or call the Medibank 24/7 Health Advice Line."

Common behaviours highlighted by the research include:

'Taking a Mumscription' - 1 in 5 young Aussies turn to a family member for advice first before anything else. And 49% believe their parent's advice is reliable. 'Social Diagnoser' - 28% of us have seen health topics being discussed on Facebook but very few will admit to doing it.
'Symptom surfing' - 76% of us have surfed the Internet for information on symptoms, most commonly looking up sexual health, rashes and medications.
'Silent suffering' - 35% have been too embarrassed to speak to someone face to face and 42% have had a health concern they've kept totally to themselves.

Dr Georgia Karabatsos, Medibank 24/7 Health Advice Line Medical Director added:

"We do get calls to the Medibank 24/7 Health Advice Line, from people who want to discuss their symptoms and what they believe is their diagnosis based on Internet research or social network advice. A credible health professional needs to be the first port of call for all health advice.

"The Internet and your mum are not doctors, so we are calling on all Australians to put an end to misdiagnosis and talk to a qualified health professional.

"The Medibank 24/7 Health Advice Line is confidential and the trained registered nurses ask you about your medical history, can help you decide if the symptom needs medical attention and give you health advice as a first step in looking into their health concerns."

'Talk To An Expert Week' is taking place on 26th-31st August and a video narrated by Mia Freedman, highlighting the problem, will be released on on Monday 26th August.

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