By Patricia B. Mirasol

FILIPINOS would rather Google medical information and self-medicate than consult a doctor, according to a recent survey.

A 2021 wellness index by health maintenance organization PhilhealthCare, Inc. (PhilCare) found that only 7.4% of 1,500 respondents do not self-medicate.  

The majority, meanwhile, self-medicate because they have been able to treat themselves before (with 28.6% strongly agreeing and 40.3% agreeing); they are also able to seek advice from friends and family (28.6% strongly agreeing and 43.1% agreeing), and search online for medical information (25.5% strongly agreeing and 40.2% agreeing).

“We are not at all surprised with this result, especially if you view it from the context of how the pandemic has changed the mindset of Filipinos when it comes to health,” said Joseph Agustin “Jaeger” L. Tanco, PhilCare president and chief executive officer, in an e-mail to BusinessWorld. Mr. Tanco noted that Filipino workers now see healthcare as among the top things they value in a workplace.  

The PhilCare survey also found that Filipinos would rather do online research than online consultation. Almost half of the respondents said they are not comfortable consulting a doctor online or over the telephone. Another 39% said they prefer not to spend on a new consultation to get prescription refills.  

Inasmuch as health professionals use online platforms to disseminate health-related information, the medium can also provide a fertile ground for misinformation.  

A January 2021 study at the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that the prevalence of health misinformation was high on the following public health issues: smoking products, drugs, and vaccines. The study also singled out Twitter as the social media platform with the highest prevalence of health misinformation.

“We need to rethink the way health is delivered, especially under this so-called next normal. That way, people still get the professional healthcare that they need, while addressing their anxiety resulting from the pandemic,” said Mr. Tanco, adding telemedicine should gain more traction.

“Despite being less anxious about going to hospitals as compared to 2020, Filipinos still worry about getting COVID-19 if they [have to] physically go there to get medical attention,” he added.

The heightened need for health, coupled with the worry of getting COVID-19 in hospitals, has resulted in the decision to self-medicate among many Filipinos, according to Mr. Tanco.

Self-medication is the use of drugs to treat self-diagnosed medical conditions. Without medical guidance, self-medication can lead to incorrect or inappropriate therapy, missed diagnoses, increased morbidity, and resistance to antibiotics.

Antimicrobial resistance stems from “superbugs” evolving from the misuse of antibiotics. It caused the deaths of 1.27 million people in 2019 — higher than HIV/AIDS or malaria, per the Global Research on Antimicrobial Resistance report.

The PhilCare Wellness Index was conducted via a nationwide telephone survey Sept. 4-20, 2021. A majority of the respondents — who were randomly selected from Metro Manila and 65 provinces — are employees (96.1%), with 64.5% working for private firms.