8 in 10 Web Users Look for Online Health Data

February 16, 2011

pew-research-online-health-research-by-age-feb11.gifEight in 10 US internet users look online for health information, making it the third most popular online pursuit among all those tracked by the Pew Internet Project, following email (94%) and using a search engine (87%), according to a new study from the Pew Internet Project. Since one-quarter of adults do not go online, the percentage of online health information seekers is 59% among the total US adult population.

Women, Whites, Wealthy, Young, Educated More Likely to Look Up Health Data

pew-online-health-demographics-feb-2011.JPGWomen, non-Hispanic whites, younger adults, and those with higher levels of education and income are more likely than other demographic groups to gather health information online. For example, 65% of women but 53% of men look up online health info, and non-Hispanic whites (63%) have a higher rate than African-Americans (47%) or Latinos (45%).

In addition, 71% of 18-to-29-year-olds but only 29% of those 65 and older look up health information online, and 81% of college graduates but 24% of those who have completed some high school do so. A similar gap exists between those with a household income of $75,000 or more (83%) and less than $30,000 (41%).

Pew says there are two forces at play in the data: access to the internet and interest in health information. For example, women and men are equally likely to have access to the internet, but women are more likely than men to report gathering health information online.

For the other groups, the rate of internet adoption combined with their level of interest in health information drives their numbers either up or down.

7 in 10 Caregivers Get Online Health Info

pew-online-health-status-feb-2011.JPGAdults who, in the past 12 months, have provided unpaid care for a loved one are among the most likely people to have looked online for health information of all kinds (70%). Pew analysis shows these caregivers are not only often in need of health information but have the means to obtain it online: 80% have access to the internet.

Another group with reason to seek health information online is people who faced a serious medical emergency or crisis in the past year, either their own or that of someone close them (65%). Medical crises crop up in many people’s lives, across demographic groups, so there is little difference among the groups when it comes to internet access. The internet once again distinguishes itself for these users as a just-in-time information resource.

Interestingly, a third group, people who have experienced any other significant change in their physical health in the past year, such as gaining or losing a lot of weight, becoming pregnant, or quitting smoking; do not report a higher rate of health information seeking compared with other people.

While people with chronic health conditions or disabilities presumably have more need to obtain current health data than those without these issues, they report doing so at significantly lower rates. However, other Pew data shows US adults with chronic disease are offline in disproportion to the general population.

Eighty-one percent of adults reporting no chronic disease go online, compared to 62% of adults reporting one or more chronic diseases. While Pew does not have figures on how often adults with disabilities go online, MarketingCharts editors believe a similar discrepancy may exist.

Most Online Health Searches for Others

Half of internet users (48%) who go online for health information say their last search was on behalf of another person, 36% say their last search was on behalf of themselves, and 11% say it was both for themselves and someone else.

Caregivers are the most likely group to say they were thinking of someone else during their last search: 53%, compared with 45% of internet users who are not currently caring for a loved one. Online parents with young children living at home are another group likely to say their last health information query was on behalf of someone else: 56%, compared with 43% of internet users who do not have children younger than 18 living at home.

Internet users ages 30-49 are the most likely age group to be focused on other people, which Pew says is not surprising since two-thirds of this group have young children living at home and may also be looking for information on behalf of aging relatives. Fifty-five percent of internet users in their 30s and 40s say their last search was on someone else’s behalf, compared with 42% of internet users ages 18-29, 46% of internet users ages 50-64, and 36% of internet users ages 65 and older.

Harris: Many Adults Look Up Online Health Info

A large percentage of US online adults look up health information on the web on a regular basis, according to results of a July 2010 Harris Poll. Three-quarters (76%) of US adults have looked up health information online at some point. Among currently online adults, that figures jumps to almost nine in 10 (88%). Sixty-two percent of online adults have looked up health information online in the past month. By number, about 175 million US adults have looked online for health information at least once.

About the Data: All quantitative, numerical data is based on a September 2010 national telephone survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI).


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