Internet Popular with People Seeking Health Information

From Researching Medical Conditions to Tracking Weight and Reading Blogs, Survey Shows Web's Popularity Among Health Information Seekers

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

May 12, 2011 -- Millions of Americans turn to the Internet for medical information, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project.

The survey also finds that although people heavily use information found online, doctors, nurses, and other health professionals are the first choice for advice about health concerns.

The survey, based on telephone interviews with 3,001 adults in the U.S., finds that of the 74% of Americans who use the Internet, 80% have looked online for information about any of 15 health topics, such as a specific disease or treatment. Pew says this translates to 59% of all adults.

Blogs and Online Groups for Health Information

Other key findings of the survey:

  • 34% of Internet users or 25% of adults have read someone else's commentary or experience about health or medical issues on an online news group, web site, or blog.
  • 24% of Internet users, or 18% of adults, have gone online to read reviews of particular drugs or medical treatments.
  • 18% of Internet users, or 13% of adults, have looked online to find others with similar health concerns.
  • 16% of Internet users, or 12% of adults, have consulted online rankings or reviews of physicians or other health care providers.
  • 15% of people who go online, or 11% of adults, have consulted rankings or reviews of hospitals or other medical facilities.

Pew researchers say that as broadband and mobile access spreads, more people are sharing what they are doing or thinking. This includes tracking workout routines, posting reviews of their medical treatments, and raising awareness about certain health conditions.

And some patients and caregivers are taking an active role in tracking and sharing what they have learned. For example, of adults who use the Internet:

  • 27% of users or 20% of adults have tracked their weight, diet, exercise routines, or other health indicators or symptoms.
  • 6% of Internet users have posted comments, questions, or information about health or medical issues on a web site, such as a news site.
  • 4% of Internet users have discussed their experiences with various drugs online, 4% have written reviews of doctors, and 3% have posted opinions of hospitals.

Pew says about 62% of adults who use the Internet also use social networking sites, such as Facebook. The survey says that:

  • 14% of social network users or 6% of adults have raised money for or drawn attention to a health-related issue or cause.
  • 11% of users, or about 5% of adults, have posted comments, queries, or information about health or medical matters.
  • 9% of social network users, or 4% of adults, have started or joined a health-related group on a social networking site.

New Media Used as New Health Tools

Pew says in a news release that people are increasingly using the new media as social tools and often are motivated by the prospect of gaining information about health conditions, and perhaps making contact with other people.

Other key findings:

  • 14% of Internet users have signed up to receive email updates or alerts about health or medical issues.
  • 6% of users have posted comments or questions on a web site that allows discussion.
  • 4% of users have taken part in discussions on blogs.
  • 25% of Internet users have watched a video online about health or medical issues.
  • Among cell phone users, 10% of males and 8% of females have used a software application, or "app" on the phone, to help them track or manage their health.


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SOURCES: News release, Pew Internet & American Life Project.Fox, S. The Social Life of Health Information, May 12, 2011. ©2011 WebMD, LLC. All Rights Reserved.