Poll Shows People Seek Medical Advice From AI and Social Media Instead Of Their Doctors

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What’s the first thing you do when you have a new symptom or a confusing lab result? Google it, of course! But now, many MD-less keyboard warriors are turning to ChatGPT and other AI tools, along with social media, even more so than our own doctors. Step aside, WebMD: A new version of Doctor Googling is here.

In a poll released on Dec. 6 from UserTesting, data from 2,000 participants revealed that 53 percent rely on healthcare websites, and 46 percent consult social media sites over their own doctor. In addition, over half the people polled would trust AI to recommend treatment plans to them, and 72 percent believe they themselves have a better understanding of their health than their doctor. 

This begs the question, why? There are some potential clues — respondents report that they don’t understand what insurance covers (57 percent), and that creates a significant barrier to getting medical help. Additionally, over half of respondents also said they are embarrassed about what they are experiencing, and nearly half were seeking a second opinion. 

Though respondents seemed comfortable with leaning on the internet as a whole, location played a significant role in patients’ trust of AI. Only 6 percent of Americans were against using AI for health-related queries, but nearly half of the British respondents wouldn’t trust AI to handle health-related tasks. Around 27 percent of Australians did not feel AI would be trustworthy enough. Lija Hogan, Customer Experience Consultant at UserTesting, said these global opinions were an area of interest they wanted to explore through research. “We’re one year into the AI revolution… [we] wanted to get a sense of how people across the globe… are leveraging AI in their healthcare experiences.”

AI, Social Media Diagnosis, And Sleep

Dr.  Kien Vuu, Triple Board-Certified Physician, Author of Thrive State and Former Asst. Professor of Health Sciences at UCLA, says he acknowledges this growing trend and how it could apply when people are trying to understand their sleep conditions. 

“While these tools offer convenience and immediate access to information, significant concerns and limitations exist, particularly for complex health issues like sleep disorders,” he tells Sleepopolis. Here are his biggest concerns:

Misdiagnosis And Oversimplification

AI might seem like it has all the answers, but it didn’t go to medical school.

“Sleep disorders are complex and can be symptoms of underlying health issues,” Vuu says. “AI and telehealth might oversimplify these conditions, leading to misdiagnosis or missed diagnoses, such as sleep apnea, which can result in health complications if not adequately addressed.” In addition, AI responses can be pulled from inaccurate sources, making it hard to decipher reputable data from misinformation.

Lack Of Personalized Care

You, unlike AI, are not a robot. So, it’s important to get specific care that doesn’t treat you like one.

You need more personalized care than AI can offer, Vuu says. “Sleep disorders can be intricately linked to personal lifestyle, medical history, and specific health conditions, which require a tailored approach.”

Impact Of Delaying Proper Care

Putting off proper care and relying on TikTok for medical advice might be a mistake. “Delaying proper care for sleep issues can have lasting impacts. For instance, untreated sleep apnea results in long-term cardiovascular problems, and chronic insomnia can exacerbate mental health disorders, making them more challenging to treat in the long run,” Vuu says.

Additionally, Vuu is particularly worried about people using AI or social media to address the following concerns, which could be dangerous if untreated, he says:

  • Sleep Apnea (OSA): This condition is characterized by repeated breathing interruptions during sleep, which Vuu says can often be a precursor to heart disease, stroke, and chronic fatigue.
  • Insomnia and Mental Health: Chronic insomnia can also be associated with mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Without proper treatment, these conditions can worsen.
  • Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS): Often underdiagnosed, RLS could be associated with other neurological disorders.

Despite his concerns, Vuu doesn’t discount the convenience and accessibility AI provides — he acknowledges that people may be searching for more cost-effective options than in-person care. Also, there’s anxiety sometimes associated with talking to a doctor in person, and he says these online tools might help with “avoiding the stigma” people perceive. If you do go this route, he says to use AI as a supplementary tool, not a replacement for a doctor. Be cautious in believing information, and check for reliable sourcing. 

“If you suspect you have a sleep disorder or if your sleep issues persist, it’s crucial to consult a healthcare professional in order to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan,” he says, adding that it’s important to be your own advocate and prepare questions ahead of time.

“While telehealth and AI platforms like ChatGPT provide convenient access to health information, they have limitations, especially for complex and potentially serious conditions like sleep disorders. It’s essential to use these tools judiciously and wisely to seek professional medical advice in order to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment.”

Alexandra Frost

Alexandra Frost

Alexandra Frost is a Cincinnati-based freelance journalist, content marketing writer, copywriter, and editor focusing on health and wellness, parenting, real estate, business, education, and lifestyle. Away from the keyboard, Alex is also mom to her four sons under age 7, who keep things chaotic, fun, and interesting. For over a decade she has been helping publications and companies connect with readers and bring high-quality information and research to them in a relatable voice.  She has been published in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Glamour, Shape, Today's Parent, Reader's Digest, Parents, Women's Health, and Insider.

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