Internet may be fuelling hypochondria after ‘Google diagnoses’ surge by more than 8,700% in 3 years

Britons are turning to Google more than 100,000 times a year to self-diagnose and find cures, new research shows. 

UK search volumes for terms such as ‘how to know chest pains are serious’ have risen by 8,781 per cent from 2015 to 2018, analysis of Google data has found.

It raises concerns that searching symptoms online is fueling hypochondria.

Searches for treatment for sciatica, acne and IBS have been the most common ovver the past three years.

Analysis of Google data showed self-diagnosis is soaring by up to almost 9000 per cent for problems such as chest pain

Analysis of Google data showed self-diagnosis is soaring by up to almost 9000 per cent for problems such as chest pain

‘GP near me’ was googled 500,000 times between January and August alone this year, and ‘GP online’ was googled on average 22,000 times a year.

Hannah Sims, Product Manager for Perkbox Medical, which commissioned the research, believes the pressure on the NHS is driving people to look for answers more quickly. 

NHS GP SHORTAGE IS A ‘DESPERATE SITUATION’

Official figures showed in February that 41 per cent of GPs – around 10,000 doctors – are 50 or over and are expected to quit within the next five to ten years. 

And 2.5 million patients are at risk of their local GP surgery closing because so many are relying on doctors who are close to retirement. 

At the same time, fewer young doctors are choosing to specialise as GPs and are opting for other career paths as surgeons or specialists. 

Many GPs are retiring in their 50s, moving abroad or leaving to work in the private sector, increasing the pressure on those who still work in the sector. 

Appointment waiting times are getting longer and more people are going to A&E for minor illnesses because they can’t see a doctor. 

Despite an NHS a plan to recruit 5,000 extra GPs by 2021, numbers of family doctors are falling.   

And 762 GP practices across the UK could close within the next five years, according to the Royal College of Nursing.

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, last week told The Times: ‘This is a desperate situation with potentially serious consequences for patients.’  

She said: ‘Currently, over one million people a week in the UK struggle to get themselves seen by a doctor when they need it.

‘GP surgeries tend to only be open during the usual working hours and are stretched to fit everyone in, pushing appointment waiting times to around two weeks.

‘Similarly, the average health insurance premium in the UK costs £1,400.

‘The NHS has been looking after the health of the nation for 70 years now.

‘It’s a wonderful system, but it isn’t without its challenges, particularly in primary care.’ 

The statistics show the most commonly searched questions, suggesting people are commonly self-diagnosing.  

‘How to know if chest pains are serious?’ was among the most searched terms with 14,210 average searches from January – August this year.

‘How to get rid of back pain?’ received 12,800 average searches in the same period, and ‘how to get rid of stomach pain?’ garnered 18,200 average searches.

Sims added: ‘Many of these symptoms account for key causes of absenteeism at work, which costs the UK economy £77billion per year.  

‘And it makes sense, when waiting times are often long and employers aren’t financially able to provide their staff with an alternative route to see a doctor, people naturally look for a quick fix solution, googling their symptoms and getting some rest from home, or, worse, falling victims to ‘presenteeism’ at work.’  

‘On top of that, there’s the admin involved with sorting it all out – wading through pages of jargon, comparing different, often confusing policies, conducting a full census of your staff and making big decisions about what you can and can’t afford to cover.

‘It’s not an easy world to navigate in, and it’s no wonder busy employers and HR leaders back away.’ 

Experts warned last month that ‘alarm bells’ are ringing as official figures revealed the NHS waiting list is the longest for 11 years.

4.15million patients are now waiting for routine treatment with A&E departments their most busiest.  

Patients often struggle to get appointments at their GPs and are being put at risk by hurried consultations, an interim Government report said last month. 

It suggested family doctors should extend the 10-minute consultation time for patients who are most in need to improve care and increase their job satisfaction

However, Dr Nigel Watson warned increasing consultation length would inevitably exacerbate difficulties in getting an appointment in the first place.   

GPs reported that they were having to make many rapid clinical decisions and complex assessments. 

The average consultation time of 10 minutes in the UK – thought to be the shortest in the developed world – is contributing to this, it found.

MOST COMMONLY SEARCHED CONDITIONS ON GOOGLE (AVERAGE NUMBERS FROM 2015-2018)
Most common searches for treatment Most common searches for pain Most common searches for ache
Sciatica treatment, 110,000 Lower back pain, 638,000 Stomach ache, 116,000
Acne treatment 110,000 Stomach pain, 457,000 Aching legs, 151,000
IBS treatment, 100,000 Knee pain, 461,000 Aching testicles, 66,000
Cold sore treatment 100,000 Chest pain, 386,000 Ear ache, 58,000
Mouth ulcer treatment 90,000 Kidney pain, 367,000 Aching joints, 55,000

 


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