Consumers turn to Dr Google for medicines information

Nearly 60% of Australians sometimes or always look up information about health conditions online as a way of avoiding seeing a health professional, the results of a new survey show.

The survey, released by NPS Medicinewise during the current Be Medicinewise Week, not only found that 58% of Australians would rather see Dr Google than a real-life health professional, this number rises to 79% in the age category of 18 to 34 year olds.

This compares to only one in three people who said in a 2012 NPS MedicineWise survey that they were likely to search the internet for information about their symptoms before they visited their doctor.

And the top reason for experiencing confusion when starting a new medicine was because the Consumer Medicines Information (CMI) leaflet was not included in the packaging or offered by their pharmacist (13% of all respondents).

The study also found that almost four out of five Australians (78%) report that they look for information about medicines on the internet and that some Australians are seeking help on Facebook.

NPS Medicinewise spokesperson Aine Heaney encouraged Australians to ask questions of the right people and know how to source reliable information.

This included accessing CMIs.

She warned Australians that while it is natural to want to know more about a condition when a person or loved one become ill, Dr Google does not replace a live interaction with a human health professional.

“While it is always a good idea to equip yourself with health-related information, it is important to be aware that not all health information you access on the internet will be accurate or reliable,” she warned consumers.

“Some might be full of medical jargon and not have plain language statements to explain the information clearly.

“You need to be able to assess the reliability of information found on the internet, and understand limitations of what internet can tell you.

“Take charge of your health and your medicines, and work with your health professionals, such as a doctor, nurse or pharmacist, to better understand your health and any medicines, tests and treatments you might need.”

She encouraged Australians to visit reputable websites such as NPS Medicinewise or the Better Health Channel, and to talk to their pharmacist if they would like a hard copy of a CMI printed out for them, or more information about their medicines.

“CMIs are a good tool to use as a starting point for understanding your medicine, but if the leaflet for your medicine raises more questions than it gives answers, make sure you speak with a health professional to help put that information into context for you and your situation,” says Heaney.

The survey showed that 12% of respondents experienced confusion when the CMI was too hard to understand.

It also showed that one in five Australians (20%) said they would use Facebook to try to find answers to questions they have about medicines.

“Everyone has a unique story about how medicines work, and there is plenty of moral support to be found on social media and online forums, but one person’s experience won’t necessarily be the same as yours,” says Heaney.

“The final decision about what medicine to take should lie with you and your prescriber or other health professional, using personalised advice for your situation.”

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