Pew Survey: Health information third most popular online pursuit

By Molly Merrill
09:55 AM
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Health information is one of the hottest topics online today, with 80 percent of Americans using the Internet to research areas including diseases, procedures, doctors, hospitals, drugs, test results and insurance, according to a new survey by the Pew Internet Project and California HealthCare Foundation.

The Health Topic survey, authored by Susannah Fox, was conducted Aug. 9-Sept. 13, 2010. It revealed that health information is the third most popular online pursuit among all those tracked by the Pew Internet Project, following email and using a search engine.

[See also: Americans flock online for health info.]

According to the survey, not only are some demographic groups more likely than others to have Internet access, but these same groups are generally more likely to seek health information once online. The most likely groups to look online for health information include: caregivers, women, whites, younger adults, and adults with at least some college education. The groups least likely to look online for health information include: African Americans, Latinos, people living with disability, older adults, and adults with a high school education or less.

"The Internet has become a go-to resource for most Americans, but some groups are still on the other side of the health information divide," says Fox, who is associate director of the Pew Internet Project. "Many people, particularly the most vulnerable populations, are not likely to see the most up-to-date information on drug recalls, food safety and medical treatments."

The survey measured Internet users' interest in the following topics:

  • Sixty-six percent of Internet users look online for information about a specific disease or medical problem. The top five conditions searched for on WebMD, for example, are shingles, gallbladder, gout, hemorrhoids and lupus.
  • Fifty-six percent of Internet users look online for information about a certain medical treatment or procedure. The top five treatments searched for on WebMD, for example, are pain relievers, anti-depressants, high blood pressure medication, corticosteroids and hysterectomy.
  • Forty-four percent of Internet users look online for information about doctors or other health professionals.
  • Thirty-six percent of Internet users look online for information about hospitals or other medical facilities.
  • Thirty-three percent of Internet users look online for information related to health insurance, including private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid.
  • Twenty-nine percent of Internet users look online for information about food safety or recalls.
  • Twenty-four percent of Internet users look online for information about drug safety or recalls.
  • Twenty-two percent of Internet users look online for information about environmental health hazards.
  • Nineteen percent of Internet users look online for information about pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Seventeen percent of Internet users look online for information about memory loss, dementia or Alzheimer's.
  • Sixteen percent of Internet users look online for information about medical test results.
  • Fourteen percent of Internet users look online for information about how to manage chronic pain.
  • Twelve percent of Internet users look online for information about long-term care for an elderly or disabled person.
  • Seven percent of Internet users look online for information about end-of-life decisions.

[See also: Pew study: Mobile health catching on with young adults.]

Fox says the rise of wireless Internet access could shift the patterns of who is looking for health information online. For instance, young people, Latinos and African Americans are increasingly likely to use mobile devices to gather information, including health advice.

Read the full report here.