Rise in ‘Keyboard Doctors’: Brits search cancer eleven times a second

30 November 2017
  • Over half (57%) of UK adults use the internet to self diagnose an illness
  • On average, there are eleven online searches a second 
  • Common cancers such as lung and breast are searched for every two seconds
  • Half of UK adults delay visiting their GP even if they have self diagnosed themselves
  • Bupa launches Cancer Direct Access – the self-referral cancer service
Woman thoughtfully looking at a computer screen

The overload of medical information that is available at the click of a button has driven the growth of the ‘Keyboard Doctor’ phenomenon. More than half of adults in the UK now use the internet to self diagnose themselves with physical and mental health conditions, ranging from the common cold to more severe conditions such as cancer and depression.  

New research by Bupa shows that, on average Brits search online for ‘cancer’ eleven times a second, making it one of the most frequently searched for medical conditions. 

The figures reveal that cancers such as pancreatic, skin, lung, breast and testicular are all searched at least once every four seconds. A third of people who believed they had cancer related symptoms say they have turned to the internet, rather than getting medical advice. 

Although it has become increasingly common for people to look up their symptoms online before speaking to their doctor, many are potentially putting their health at risk by not getting medical advice. Of those that admit to being a Keyboard Doctor, more than half do not then go on to visit their GP following a DIY diagnosis, with women less likely to follow up with their GP than men.

Four in ten (44%) adults say they would prefer to wait and see if their symptoms worsen before seeking professional advice, with men being most concerned about wasting their doctor’s time. However for others (6%) there is a sense of anxiety, a reluctance to book an appointment because they were worried that they have accurately diagnosed themselves.

Early diagnosis and treatment of cancer significantly improves the outcome for someone. If diagnosed early  (stage one), more than 80 per cent of people with stomach cancer for example will survive for five years or more after they're diagnosed; however, if diagnosed at stage four, only five per cent of people will survive for five years or more.

Today, Bupa is launching Cancer Direct Access.  This is the UK’s most comprehensive self-referral cancer service – to improve early diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Without needing to wait for a GP referral, customers simply call the dedicated oncology team before being sped through to a specialist consultant, if they are experiencing cancer symptoms. 

Dr Steve Iley, Medical Director, Bupa UK said: “One in two people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime but the good news is that survival rates continue to improve. Early cancer detection can have a significant impact on an individual’s chance of survival and reduces their need for complex and invasive treatment that disrupts their life.

However we know that diagnosis and treatment are often delayed as people struggle to find time to book a GP appointment or worry about wasting the doctor’s time. Cancer Direct Access removes the need for a GP referral and allows customers to seek medical advice in a way that is easy and convenient for them. 

Cancer Direct Access quickly offers peace of mind that someone’s symptoms are not cancer, or allows them to quickly access the appropriate medical support and treatment for their diagnosis.”

Bupa’s new Cancer Direct Access service covers stomach, oesophagus, pancreas, skin, lung, oral, laryngeal, testicular, bladder, renal, endometrial, breast and bowel cancer.

For more information on Cancer Direct Access visit www.bupa.co.uk/direct-access.

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For further information:

Bupa’s Direct Access service is also available for cataracts, mental health and muscle, bones and joint conditions. 


About Bupa

Bupa's purpose is helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives.

With no shareholders, our customers are our focus. We reinvest profits into providing more and better healthcare for the benefit of current and future customers.

We have 15.5 million health insurance customers, provide healthcare to around 14.5 million people in our clinics and hospitals, and look after over 23,300 aged care residents.

We employ over 78,000 people, principally in the UK, Australia, Spain, Poland, Chile, New Zealand, Hong Kong, the USA, Brazil, the Middle East and Ireland, and many more through our associate businesses in Saudi Arabia and India.

Health insurance is around 70% of our business. In a number of countries, we also run clinics, dental centres, hospitals and care homes and villages.

For more information, visit www.bupa.com

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