Washington, DC – Most internet users start at a general search engine when researching health and medical advice online. Three-quarters of internet users who look online for such advice do not consistently check the source and date of the information they find. Just 15% of health seekers say they “always” check the source and date of the health information they find online, while another 10% say they do so “most of the time.” Fully three-quarters of health seekers say they check the source and date “only sometimes,” “hardly ever,” or “never,” which translates to about 85 million Americans gathering health advice online without consistently examining the quality indicators of the information they find. These 2006 findings compare with the one-quarter of health seekers who said they always checked the source and date, one-quarter who did so most of the time, and the 50% of health seekers who said they rarely or never checked these two quality indicators in our survey in 2001. One possible reason for this diminished diligence in checking sources and dates might lie with health websites themselves: A recent study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services finds that less than 2% of popular health sites display the source and date of the information on their pages. These are some of the key findings in a new report issued by the Pew Internet Project titled “Online Health Search 2006”:
The report, written by Associate Director Susannah Fox, is based on a telephone survey of 2,928 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted August 1-31, 2006.
“Search engines are the first stop for two-thirds of internet users with a health question and it turns out the search is often on behalf of someone else,” said Fox. “These days, internet users bring the gift of information to a bedside, along with flowers and best wishes.”
Seven percent of internet users, or about 10 million American adults, searched for information on at least one health topic on a typical day in August 2006. This places health searches at about the same level of popularity on a typical day as paying bills online, reading blogs, or using the internet to look up a phone number or address.
One new item joined the list of health topics this year: 15% of internet users, or about 21 million adults, have looked online for information about dental health.
About the Pew Internet & American Life Project: The Pew Internet Project produces reports that explore the social impact of the internet. Support for the non-profit Pew Internet Project is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The Project is an initiative of the Pew Research Center. The Project’s website: https://www.pewresearch.org/internet