More Americans Going Online For Health Information

    June 11, 2009

The majority (61%) of Americans are going online for health information and most are reading reviews and comments posted by other users, according to a new report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Among those who have gone online, 59 percent 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 percent of Internet users who have looked online for health information have actively contributed comments, reviews and updates.

Susannah Fox
Susannah Fox

"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 report also looked at how the online landscape has shifted in the last decade. In 2000, 46 percent of Americans had access to the Internet, 5 percent of households had broadband connections and 25 percent looked online for health information.

Now, 75 percent of Americans go online, 57 percent of households have broadband connections, and 61 percent go online for health information.

"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."

When it came to the quality of their online health experiences, 60 percent of respondents said they or someone they know has been helped by following medical advice found on the Internet. This is a significant increase from a 2006 Pew report that found 31 percent of users said that. Just 3 percent of respondents said they or someone they knew was harmed by following online medical advice, a number that has remained unchanged since 2006.