Women are relying more on 'Dr Google' than their GP: 'We're not being listened to'

·Lifestyle Writer, Yahoo Life UK
·5-min read
Women googling health. (Getty Images)
Dr. Google is not a safe way to seek health information, but many women are doing it. (Getty Images)

Women are being pushed to rely on Google for health advice after 'not being listened to' by their GP, a government consultation unearths.

In fact, healthcare professionals and the NHS come bottom of the list of where women are seeking medical advice.

Some 74% rely on family or friends for health information, followed by google search at 71%, and then other online search engines and blogs at 69%.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) launched a call for evidence in March 2021 to help with the first-ever government-led Women's Health Strategy for England, due next month. As part of this, a newly released survey of nearly 100,000 women, and their partners, family and experts has given a fresh insight on improvements that need to be made.

Only 59% of respondents seek advice from their GPs or other healthcare professionals, while just 54% utilise the NHS, including their non-emergency helpline and the NHS website.

Woman googling symptoms. (Getty Images)
Are you up late googling your symptoms? (Getty Images)

The results also vary depending on age and ethnicity. For example, social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter featured in the top five sources of health information listed by 16-17 year olds, and black respondents were much less likely to rely on GPs or healthcare professionals than all other ethnic groups.

Women's distrust of health professionals could be linked to the fact that more than four in five (85%) said there have been times when they (or the person they had in mind) were not listened to. This was demonstrated by tens of thousands of examples, which suggest 'not being listened to' appears in all stages of healthcare.

Specifically, women said their symptoms were not taken seriously or dismissed when first seeing their GPs and other health professionals. They also said they had to persistently advocate for themsleves to secure a diagnosis (often over multiple visits, months and years) and if they did secure a diagnosis, there were limited opportunities to discuss or ask questions about treatment options and their preferences were often ignored.

"Take reported symptoms seriously," one respondent aged between 25-39 urged. "I feel women aren’t listened to. When I experienced concerns regarding fertility, I was repeatedly dismissed. If I hadn’t really pushed, my symptoms would have been dismissed. I know friends who have had similar experiences."

Read more: How to get rid of headaches as it's revealed how common they are (particularly in women)

Watch: 2 in 5 have been tricked by 'Dr. Google' into believing they have a serious disease

While women don't feel listened to, the same amount (85%) do feel, or are perceived to feel comfortable when talking to healthcare professionals about general physical health concerns, though this falls to 59% when discussing mental health.

Less than one in five said they have enough information on menstrual wellbeing (17%), one in seven on gynaecological cancers (14%), and less than 1 in 10 have enough information on the menopause (9%), female genital mutilation and sexual assault centres (9%), and gynaecological conditions (8%).

"I didn’t grow up in the UK and sex and relationships education was non-existent where or when I grew up," said another respondent aged between 40-59. "As a result I had to do research mainly from books and online. Personally it can be very frightening to search such a topic without help. It also involves a risk that we get inaccurate information."

Read more: Carol Vorderman experienced 'deep, overwhelming depression' during menopause

Doctor and patient
Women don't feel listened to by their doctors and are seeking advice elsewhere. (Getty Images)

Solutions put forward by respondents include improving the quality and availability of information available to the public, improving and expanding the education of healthcare professionals, and joining up services through the use of women’s health hubs and drop-in centres, and diversifying the current relationships, sex and health education curriculum.

Plus, only two in five can conveniently access the services they need in terms of location (40%) and around one in four said the same in terms of timing (24%). Not to mention the lengthy waiting list times. Suggested improvements include system-level changes like geographical diversity of women's health services, hubs and clinics, better education and training of professionals, an increase in specialists and services to treat women's health conditions.

Read more: Millions of adults too embarrassed to see doctor about potentially serious symptoms

"Alongside general barriers experienced, such as a lack of GP appointments and limited access to mental health services, some women also reported delays to female cancer screening services and inadequate support during and post pregnancy," the report added.

The report acknowledges that research can be improved in future by ensuring women of different protected characteristics (age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion and so on) are included and further research into health issues specific to women such as the menopause or endometriosis is carried out.

Other priorities include evaluating models of health service delivery that better listen to and serve women’s health needs, among in multiple ways.

Googling symptoms is never advised and can be dangerous. Always try to seek advice from a GP or healthcare professional, despite the challenges, and express your concern.

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