Fully 56% of American adults – more than 122 million people – sought information about a personal health concern from a source other than their doctor, up from 38%, or 72 million people, in 2001, according to a Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC) study.
Use of all information sources rose substantially, but the proportion of Americans using the Internet as an information source grew the most rapidly, doubling from 16% in 2001 to 32% in 2007, according to HSC’s 2007 Health Tracking Household Survey.
“Across the board, more Americans are seeking health information from sources other than their doctors, but despite the striking jump, there is still a significant minority – about 45% – who didn’t seek any information about a personal health concern during the past 12 months,” said Ha T. Tu, MPA, an HSC senior researcher and coauthor of the study with Genna R. Cohen, an HSC health research assistant.
Consumers who actively researched health concerns widely reported positive impacts:
- More than half said the information changed their overall approach to maintaining their health.
- Four in five said that the information helped them to better understand how to treat an illness or condition.
Across all categories of age, education, income, race/ethnicity and health status, consumers increased their information seeking significantly, but education level remained the key factor in explaining how likely people are to seek health information.
In 2007, 72% of people with a graduate education sought health information, compared with 42% of those without a high school diploma.
Other key findings:
- Consumers’ use of the internet for health information is now on par with their use of the more traditional, longstanding sources: books, magazines and newspapers (33%) and friends or relatives (31%), which also increased significantly since 2001.
- Although elderly Americans sharply increased their information seeking, they still trail younger Americans by a substantial margin, especially in using internet information sources:
- Nearly half of Americans 65 and older (48%) sought health information in 2007, up from 31% in 2001.
- Likewise, the proportion of seniors using the internet to seek health information increased from 7% in 2001 to 18% in 2007.
- People with chronic conditions are more likely to seek health information. For example, two in three people with two or more chronic conditions (66%) sought health information in 2007, compared with one in two people without any chronic conditions (50%).
- After accounting for other personal characteristics, women are more likely than men, younger consumers are more likely than older consumers, whites and African Americans are more likely than Hispanics, and people with the highest incomes are more likely than those with the lowest incomes to seek health information. These differences, unlike education, are mostly modest to moderate in magnitude.
About the study: HSC’s 2007 Health Tracking Household Survey is a nationally representative survey containing information on 18,000 people; the survey had a 43% response rate.