The Internet is the first choice for many health information seekers
The number of Americans who use the Internet to find health care information has been on the rise, with online health and medical information playing a growing role in people’s interactions with their doctors. When the Pew Internet Project first inquired in March 2000 about online health care, 46 million Americans had used the Internet to find health care information. By October 2002, that number had grown to 73 million. People go online to get information about specific illnesses, weight control, and prescription drugs. Most those who look for health information online – we call them “health seekers” – are women, and often they are looking for information on behalf of someone for whom they are caring. Health seekers are typically careful to consult with a medical professional before acting upon online medical information.
Most Americans expect to be able to find reliable health care information online, which helps explain why such information plays a growing role in the decision-making of health seekers. Two-thirds (67%) of all Americans expect to find reliable health care information online, with four out of five (81%) of Internet users saying this and 45% of non-Internet users expecting reliable medical information to be online. The success rate among online health seekers is also very good. Three quarters (76%) of health seekers say they “always” or “most of the time” find what they are looking for when they take to the Internet for health care information; 28% “always” find what they need.
Most strikingly, Internet users are about as likely to say they will go online the next time they need medical information as they are to contact a medical professional. Nearly half (46%) of Internet users say they will use the Internet next time they need reliable health care information. This is statistically the same as the 47% of Internet users who say they will contact a medical professional. The Internet as the first choice for medical information is especially true for health seekers. Fully 58% of health seekers say they will first go online when they next need reliable health care information; 35% say their first move would be to contact a medical professional.
All in all, about one-third (31%) of all Americans say they will turn to the Internet next time they need health care information, while 59% they will contact a medical professional. About one in twelve non-Internet users – 8%– say they will turn to the Internet first when they next need medical information. For those users, they probably will turn to a trusted caregiver with online access for this information.