Taking Charge: Health, Attitudes Toward Doctors, and Self-Diagnosing
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Taking Charge: Health, Attitudes Toward Doctors, and Self-Diagnosing

We surveyed more than 2,000 women to find out more about how we take care of ourselves and our families when it comes to diagnosing sickness, planning doctor visits, and staying healthy.

The Ladies' Home Journal Nationwide Health Survey, April 2006

A new nationwide study reveals that a significant number of women self-diagnose health conditions, and many of these women are likely to try self-treating illnesses before seeking professional help. According to the findings, the growing access to health information is fueling a sense of confidence among women in making their own diagnosis.

Ladies' Home Journal magazine commissioned the study "Taking Charge: Health, Attitudes Toward Doctors, and Self-Diagnosing," to determine whether women are relying more heavily on their own diagnoses, and how this affects their family's health.

"Women have a tendency to take care of everyone in the house and themselves, and while there's nothing wrong with doing some research on your own, proper consultation with a doctor is critical to maintaining health," says Marianne J. Legato, MD, founder and director of The Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University and medical advisor to Ladies' Home Journal. "Every patient deserves an attentive, well-informed physician who will answer questions clearly; if this is not the case for you, change doctors."

The Findings: Over 50 Percent of Us Self-Diagnose

More than half (57 percent) of all women say they self-diagnose at least sometimes; nearly two-thirds under the age of 40 (62 percent) stated as such; 53 percent of women age 50+ self-diagnose.

  • Among younger women (aged 25-39), 33 percent say they self-diagnose more now than they did five years ago; compared one out of five women (22 percent) aged 40-64.

Why are these women self-diagnosing? Access to more relevant health information (61 percent); more confidence in their own medical judgment (39 percent); more experienced and knowledgeable about health issues (38 percent); and seldom feeling they need medical care (33 percent).

  • Among women who self-diagnose less than they did five years ago, the key reasons for their behavior include life changes that have made them more cautious (54 percent); they have found a doctor they like and trust (34 percent); and their health issues have become more complicated (30 percent).

Self-diagnosing serious illness: Nearly half of all women surveyed (45 percent) say that they would first try to diagnose and/or treat sharp pain in the upper abdomen of their children before seeking medical attention, a potentially serious risk.

  • Overall, between 15 and 45 percent of all women say that they would first diagnose and/or treat conditions in their children themselves, even with potentially serious conditions ranging from a very severe headache complex to sharp abdominal pain lasting 4 hours.

Women and Their Doctors

  • Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of women surveyed have encountered inattentive, unreceptive, or inaccessible doctors in the past five years.
  • Only one out of five women (22 percent) aged 25-39 see doctors as trusted allies. Similarly, only 26 percent of women aged 40-49, and 33 percent of women aged 50-64, state as such.
  • While almost two-thirds (63 percent) of women aged 50-64 say that they can talk freely with their doctor, only half (53 percent) of women aged 25-39 stated as such.
  • As women experience more medical conditions, they are more likely to have positive attitudes toward doctors. For example, 63 percent of women who have experienced five or more medical conditions state that doctors genuinely care about their health.

"As women become increasingly more educated medical consumers, it has clarified for us at Ladies' Home Journal how vital and lifesaving our role is as a popular and mainstream source of health information," says Diane Salvatore, Editor-in-Chief. "American women are at the front lines of healthcare, for themselves and their families, and we take seriously our role as a trusted source they use to make decisions about their family's well-being and safety."

Originally published on LHJ.com, April 2006.