Online Health Search 2006

Oct 29, 2006

Most of the millions of Americans who turn to the web for health information are pleased by what they find - though few check the quality of the information.

On a typical day some 10 million Americans now turn to the web for health information - about as many as those who pay bills online, read blogs or look up a phone number or address. At one time or another, about 80% American internet users, or some 113 million adults, have searched for information on at least one of seventeen health topics. Most start by employing a search engine and are looking for information on behalf of someone other than themselves. Most are pleased by what they find - although the great majority, about three-quarters -- do not consistently check the source and date of the health information they find online.

Women are more likely than men to seek health-related information online. Other more frequent seekers include those with a college degree, more experienced internet users and those with broadband connections.

These and other findings emerge from the Online Health Search 2006, an August 2006 survey of internet users conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The survey finds that most health seekers are pleased by what they find:

  • 44% say the information changed the way they think about diet, exercise, or stress management.  
  • 39% say the information changed the way they cope with a chronic condition or manage pain.  
  • 35% say the information affected a decision about whether to see a doctor.

Given eight different ways - four positive and four negative - to describe how they felt during their last search for health information online, respondents were much more inclined to identify with the positive descriptions: 

  • 74% of health seekers say they felt reassured that they could make appropriate health care decisions.  
  • 56% say they felt confident to raise new questions or concerns about a health issue with their doctor.  
  • 56% say they felt relieved or comforted by the information they found online.  
  • 51% say they felt eager to share their new health or medical knowledge with others.

On the other hand: 

  • 25% say they felt overwhelmed by the amount of information they found online.  
  • 22% say they felt frustrated by a lack of information or an inability to find what they were looking for online.  
  • 18% say they felt confused by the information they found online.  
  • 10% say they felt frightened by the serious or graphic nature of the information they found online.

Just 15% of health seekers say they "always" check the source and date of the health information they find online, while another 10% say they do so "most of the time." Fully three-quarters of health seekers say they check the source and date "only sometimes," "hardly ever," or "never," which translates to about 85 million Americans gathering health advice online without consistently examining the quality indicators of the information they find.

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