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Health Note: Sick? Consult Dr. Google

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Sick? Consult Dr. Google

One in three Americans goes online in search of a diagnosis when sick, usually starting at a search engine.

Deb Huttner’s sore ankle, nagging her for a month, wasn’t healing.

But before she called the clinic, she went online and tried to figure it out herself. On WebMD.com she found a possible diagnosis — tendinitis and bursitis — and decided she needed more help.

“When I went to the doctor they said, ‘Yep, that’s what it is,’” said Huttner, 42, of Crystal, Minn.

Now on the mend, she is among the millions of people diagnosing their own conditions online. One in three Americans look to the Internet when trying to fix what ails them or someone else, according to a study released this week by the Pew Internet Project.

About half of those who do online triage follow up with a visit to the clinic. In 40 percent of those cases, a medical professional confirmed the diagnosis.

“Online health information is available day or night, at no cost, and the Internet has become a de facto second opinion for many people,” said Susannah Fox, lead author of the Pew report.

While Fox and local experts caution that the Internet isn’t the same as a visit to a medical professional — and can offer scary or misleading answers — it’s a key resource for patients that health care providers are starting to embrace.

Sometimes it even makes more sense than trekking to the clinic.

Allina, for example, recently encouraged non-emergency patients to use its MyChart system for e-visits rather than sit in clinic waiting rooms at the height of flu season.

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