December 13, 2011

How do those who don’t search for health information online differ from those who do?

Q: You’ve reported on how many Americans have turned to the Internet for health care information. What about those who have not taken part in this trend? How do they differ from those who go online for this information?

A: Education significantly affects someone’s likelihood to have internet access, which of course influences a person’s likelihood to search for health information online. For example, when looking at adults who have less than a high school education, just 42% go online and, of those, 62% say they gather health information online. That means three-quarters of U.S. adults who have less than a high school education say they do not get health information online. By comparison, college graduates are nearly all online (94%) and 89% of that group gathers health information online. Therefore, only about one-in-six U.S. adults with a college degree say they do not get health information online.

In 2002, we asked a basic screening question to see if respondents ever use the internet to look for health information or medical advice. Of those who answered in the negative, nearly half of internet (47%) users said the major reason they did not search for health information online was that there were not any health or medical issues of immediate concern to them. Almost the same number (46%) said they were satisfied with the health and medical information they got elsewhere. A smaller number (12%) said that much of the information on the Internet could not be trusted and 9% said they would not know where to start looking for health information online.

Susannah Fox, associate director, digital strategy, Pew Internet & American Life Project