Have you ever scrolled through social media and come across a post discussing symptoms of an illness or disease? Diagnosis-related medical content on social media has become more widespread over the past few years, filling user feeds with stories of sickness, symptoms, and surprising recoveries. While medical professionals create some of this content, much of it is posted by content creators, influencers, and other random users. The content is so relatable and convincing that some people have begun using social media to self-diagnose.
To investigate the effects of social media self-diagnosing, we surveyed 1,000 people about their experience with medical content across various platforms. We asked participants how often they came across diagnosis content in their feeds, if they ever self-diagnosed based on it, and what they did after making a diagnosis.
Here are our key takeaways:
- 1 in 4 people have self-diagnosed based on social media information.
- 43% of those who self-diagnosed followed up with a medical professional about a disease or illness they discovered on social media.
- 82% of those who visited a doctor after social media self-diagnosing had their diagnosis confirmed.
In this article, we will share our findings and explore the prevalence of social media self-diagnosing and its impact on people’s health. Our goal in doing this is to shed light on this growing trend and help people make informed decisions about their health.
Social media symptoms
The average person spends 2.5 hours on social media daily, making it likely that most users see medical-related content every day. How many people are using this content for self-diagnosis?
According to our survey, 1 in 4 people had diagnosed themselves with an illness or disease based on information found on social media. Shockingly, members of Gen Z were the most likely generation to self-diagnose based on content, with 30% having done so. As anxiety (48%) and depression (37%) were the most commonly self-diagnosed illnesses, this might be linked to the high rates of mental illness among younger generations.
Differences among generations also occurred within the platforms used for self-diagnosis. While 55% of people used YouTube as their primary source of medical content, baby boomers got more of their information from Facebook, and Gen Z relied on TikTok.
Social media brings a wealth of information to our fingertips, but it’s important to verify the accuracy of the information we receive. After self-diagnosing based on social media, how many people seek a second opinion for confirmation?
Less than half (43%) of those who diagnosed themselves online sought a second opinion from a medical professional. Baby Boomers were the most likely to seek diagnosis confirmation, with 63% following up with a medical professional. Conversely, only 38% of Gen X sought confirmation.
Remarkably, of those who got a second opinion, 82% had their self-diagnosis confirmed. People were most accurate when diagnosing themselves with anxiety and least accurate with OCD. Additionally, 32% of respondents began medication or treatment after self-diagnosing, most often meeting with a medical professional or conducting personal research before starting.
Seeking confirmation for any diagnosis is recommended, even if a medical professional initially makes the diagnosis. Getting a second opinion can help ensure you get the most accurate diagnosis, as well as the most current information and treatment options.
The good and the bad
With so many users viewing and acting upon the medical content in their social media feeds, we were curious about their perspectives on this growing trend. Do people think social media diagnosis content is helping or hurting people’s health?
People estimated that illness and disease content made up approximately 10% of their social media feeds, with Tumblr containing the most. Tumblr’s presence at the top of the list is troubling, as the platform was once notorious for glorifying and spreading misinformation regarding mental illness and eating disorders.
To that end, most respondents had concerns about social media medical content. The biggest concern, held by 73% of respondents, was the possibility of misdiagnosis. People also worried about the spread of inaccurate information (70%), lack of accountability for content creators (54%), and fear-mongering (44%).
However, people also acknowledged the many potential benefits of medical content on social media. People felt most optimistic about increased medical awareness (72%), reduced stigma of disease and illness (56%), and the encouragement of early detection (42%). Another 38% were optimistic about social media’s potential to foster medical empathy, and 26% thought content could help empower patients.
To help balance the good and the questionable, 88% of people said medical-related content should carry a warning when not created by medical professionals. Such a warning could help people evaluate content credibility and make informed decisions regarding their use of social media content.
The future of medicine
Social media has become a leading source of information for many people, a role that has extended to the health field. Instead of waiting for appointments and tests, people are turning to their content feeds to learn about symptoms and self-diagnose. While online medical content can be helpful, people should be cautious about self-diagnosing; seeking professional medical advice regarding any major illness, disease, or treatment plan is still crucial.
Tebra surveyed 1,000 people about their social media use and perceptions of medical content on social media. Of these respondents, 93 were baby boomers, 259 were from Generation X, 579 were millennials, and 69 were from Generation Z.
All survey data shown above is self-reported.
With data-driven strategies and a passion for storytelling, Tebra helps healthcare providers achieve their goals by growing their digital presence.
Fair use statement
If you’re interested in exploring the phenomenon of self-diagnosing on social media, feel free to share our findings for noncommercial use. We simply ask that you include a link back to this page so readers can access our full methodology and findings. Let’s work together to promote accurate health information and help people make informed decisions.
You Might Also Be Interested In
Wondering where to start with medical practice social media? Check out this ultimate guide written for medical practices.
- What social media do medical professionals use? Learn the differences between the major social media platforms and discover which ones your practice should be on.
- Get more patients with paid social media advertising. Learn how to use social media to attract more patients.