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61% of American Adults Look Online for Health Information

Washington - June 11, 2009 -- A majority of American adults look online for health information and most are accessing reviews and comments posted by fellow consumers.

According to a report released today by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and the California HealthCare Foundation, 61% of adults look online for health information. Of those, 59% have done at least one of the following activities:

  • Read someone else's commentary or experience about health or medical issues on an online news group, website, or blog
  • Consulted rankings or reviews online of doctors or other providers
  • Consulted rankings or reviews online of hospitals or other medical facilities
  • Signed up to receive updates about health or medical issues
  • Listened to a podcast about health or medical issues


In addition, 20% of internet users who have looked online for health information, or “e-patients,” have actively contributed comments, reviews, and updates. E-patients in this group have, for example:

  • Tagged or categorized online content about health or medical issues
  • Posted comments, queries, or information about health or medical matters in an online discussion, listserv, or other online group forum
  • Posted comments about health on a blog
  • Posted a review online of a doctor
  • Posted a review online of a hospital
  • Shared photos, videos or audio files online about health or medical issues


In sum, 60% of e-patients (37% of all adults) have done at least one of the above activities.

"We are beginning to see e-patients turning to interactive features both to help them find information tailored to their needs and to post their own contributions," says Susannah Fox, a co-author of the report, and associate director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. "They treat the internet as a supplement to traditional sources of information, using blogs, podcasts, and other online resources to deepen their understanding of a condition and sharpen their questions for a health professional."

The new Pew Internet/California HealthCare Foundation report, "The Social Life of Health Information," describes not only how American adults use the internet to gather and share health information, but also how the landscape has shifted in the last decade. In 2000, 46% of American adults had access to the internet, 5% of U.S. households had broadband connections, and 25% of American adults looked online for health information. Now, 75% of American adults go online, 57% of American households have broadband connections, and 61% of adults look online for health information. Further, many adults now have wireless access to the internet.

"Mobile access allows people to be 'always present' to each other and that seems to draw them into conversations about health," says Sydney Jones, a co-author of the report, and research assistant at the Pew Internet Project. "The early internet provided e-patients online tools that enabled research. Now the mobile, social internet enables connection and conversation."

Asked to assess the quality of their online health experiences, 60% of e-patients (42% of all adults) say they or someone they know has been helped by following medical advice or health information found on the internet. This represents a significant increase from a 2006 Pew report that found 31% of e-patients (25% of all adults) said that. Just 3% of e-patients say they or someone they know has been harmed by following medical advice or health information found on the internet, a number that has remained stable since 2006.

However, Americans’ longstanding practices of consulting a health professional, a trusted friend, or a wise family member persist as patients pursue good health. When asked which sources they turn to for assistance, the internet comes in third (tied with books) behind asking a health professional and talking with friends or family members.

The new poll also finds that the percentage of American adults getting exercise and fitness information online has jumped from 21% in 2002 to 38% in 2008 – an 88% growth, a more rapid increase than any other health topic covered in the survey.

In addition to fitness, six other health topics have been included in our surveys since 2002, all of which have gained audience share, including information about:

  • A specific disease or medical problem (49% of adults, up from 36%)
  • A medical treatment or procedure (41% of adults, up from 27%)
  • Prescription or over-the-counter drugs (33% of adults, up from 19%)
  • Alternative treatments or medicines (26% of adults, up from 16%)
  • Depression, anxiety, stress or mental health issues (21% of adults, up from 12%)
  • Experimental treatments or medicines (15% of adults, up from 10%)

Five specific health topics were added to the list in this survey, including information about:

  • Doctors or other health professionals (35% of adults)
  • Hospitals or other medical facilities (28% of adults)
  • Health insurance, including private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid (27% of adults)
  • How to lose weight or how to control your weight (24% of adults)
  • How to stay healthy on a trip overseas (9% of adults)

The findings in this report come from a national phone survey done by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project in partnership with the California HealthCare Foundation. Some 2,253 adults, age 18 and older, were interviewed in December 2008 about the social impact of the internet on health care. The interviews were conducted in English or Spanish and included 502 cell-phone interviews.

About the sponsors

The Pew Internet & American Life Project is an initiative of the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit "fact tank" that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The Project explores the impact of the internet on children, families, communities, the work place, schools, health care and civic/political life.  The Project is nonpartisan and takes no position on policy issues. Support for the Project is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts. More information is available at www.pewinternet.org

The California HealthCare Foundation is an independent philanthropy committed to improving the way health care is delivered and financed in California. By promoting innovations in care and broader access to information, our goal is to ensure that all Californians can get the care they need, when they need it, at a price they can afford. More information is available at www.chcf.org
 

Posted: June 2009


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