Decisions about our health can be some of the most important we make in our lives.
When you have a health concern, who do you turn to?
Education and trust
A Wellcome Trust survey recently found that 73% of people around the world would most trust a doctor or nurse for medical advice. In the UK, that figure stands at more than 90%.
According to the survey, a person’s age and gender has no impact on whom they most trust for medical advice; nor does recent internet use have any bearing.
Education is the only factor measured that effects whom we trust the most to give medical guidance.
Andrew Dugan, from Gallup – the analytics company that conducted the global survey – said: “People who had only completed primary education were much less likely than those with the equivalent of a university or college degree to trust a doctor or nurse the most.
This trend was noticeable even after taking into account how wealthy a country is.”
More than a quarter of people surveyed globally said they would most trust someone other than a doctor or nurse for health advice. The most common alternative was family and friends.
In ten countries – six of them in Africa – at least one in ten people place their greatest trust in ‘traditional healers’ when seeking medical advice.
In Niger, one in five people said they would trust a religious leader the most.
People in these countries were typically among the least trusting of scientists, doctors or nurses.
Health misinformation in Africa has long been a concern. The fact-checking organisation Africa Check was set up in the wake of misinformation spread in Nigeria about the polio vaccine.
Africa Check’s Lee Mwiti said the scale of false health claims that their teams encounter in the four countries where they work is significant, among them debunking quack cancer cures and rumours of “life-saving cough CPR”.
Mr Mwiti said the spread of misinformation was “of great concern on the continent because people do change their behaviour on the strength of their implied claims”.
Social media has given rise to a range of wellness vloggers and bloggers, dispensing health advice despite limited medical experience.
Often search engines play a key role when ruminating over a health concern – so do the big tech firms do anything to ensure people seeking help online receive reliable information?
In a statement, Google said: “Our goal with Search is to deliver relevant results from the most reliable sources available and, particularly for sensitive topics like health, we have refined our systems to prioritise results from more authoritative sources.”
Yet, when it comes to vaccines, the survey suggests internet searches seem to fuel mistrust in official advice.
“People who have sought information about science, medicine or health in the last 30 days are less likely to agree that vaccines are safe,” says Lara Clements, from the Wellcome Trust.
“It raises interesting questions about whether they are finding the information they need or whether the information they are finding is making them more hesitant about vaccine safety.”
Read more about the results of the Wellcome Global Monitor.
People in the UK showed relatively strong trust in vaccines, compared with the rest of Europe.
Last year Public Health England found that 93% of parents in England have confidence in the immunisation program. Their survey asked which sources people trust for information about immunisation: social media, the internet and the media in general were trusted the least.
Trust in sources of vaccine advice
Parents in England were asked if they trust the advice about immunisation given by each source
These websites offer health advice from regulated institutions:
In the UK you can find medical help near you by calling 111 or visiting the 111 website.
Chat bot created by Paul Sargeant, Senior Journalist, Visual Journalism