Health websites reducing visits to doctors in people with chronic health conditions

People are going to their doctors less as a direct result of information they get online, a new study has revealed. The report finds that 27% of people with chronic health conditions went to the doctor less because of information they got from a website, and 41% of people cited that they turned to a health website to access advice and information on their disease, symptoms, condition pathway or well being, before seeing their GP about it.

The report is based on research with people who use social network HealthUnlocked, which is the second largest private health website in the UK, attracting over 4.5 million visits each month. The report found that 77% of people surveyed also said they had more confidence in managing their own health as a direct result of coming to the health platform and accessing health information.

One in two people also said that they used the information from the HealthUnlocked platform during consultations with their doctors, improving the interactions they had with clinicians. Whilst previous studies have found that some doctors ignore or disagree with the information patients bring to a consultation, this research contradicts this, finding that it is enabling people to bring this information to an appointment and make more shared decisions with clinicians on their care, and better evaluate the treatment options available to them.

Dr Matt Jameson Evans, chief medical officer at HealthUnlocked, said: “At a time when the numbers of people with chronic health conditions is growing fast, the results of this survey should be a cause for optimism.

“Patients are saying the ability to connect with others safely online en masse is changing the way they use healthcare services. By fact-checking with other patients before their consultation, they are finding the quality of discussions with their doctor has improved. We are able to support this, by using AI techniques to signpost useful health services, before they even need a doctor.

“Over a quarter of patients have told us that this support directly reduces their use of healthcare services, and this is important news to healthcare systems everywhere. Ignoring the supportive and therapeutic value of patients themselves will be an expensive mistake for people planning healthcare of the future, especially when this is what patients themselves are asking for.”

The report also revealed that it is uncommon for people to meet someone with the same health condition as themselves in everyday life, with 63% saying they had not done so until they came to HealthUnlocked.

There is additionally some interesting insight into the barriers for people taking part in clinical trials too, with 60% of people with a chronic health condition citing that they were interested in taking part in a trial, but stated that the biggest barrier to them doing so was not knowing how to access them.

The HealthUnlocked platform is becoming an increasingly popular social network, with growing numbers of users and traffic each month. It uses technology and AI to connect and bring people together with the same health conditions, where they share experiences and answer each other’s questions on the disease or condition, within more than 700 online health and wellbeing communities, across more than 200 different health conditions.