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Health Information Increasingly Sought Online

May 12, 2011

People’s relationship with information has changed since the invention of the Internet. A study found that online sources containing advice from peers are becoming a significant source of health information in the U.S., even though health professionals remain the main source for most people with health concerns.

Princeton Survey Research Associates International conducted over 3,000 telephone interviews of adults in the United States between August and September of 2010, and the results were published by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project.

One of 15 health issues were searched online by 80% of Internet users, or about 59% of the U.S. population, the study says. These issues include questions about a food recall, environmental hazard, or information on a specific disease, hospital or doctor.

The results showed a third of adults say that the Internet helped to inform them about their own medical decisions, or those of someone they know, while only three percent say they or someone they know has been harmed by online health advice.

In addition, learning about other people’s health experiences on blogs was also popular, reports the AFP news agency.

The number of people who say that they have read someone else’s health commentary or experience on an online news group, website or blog was 34%.

Regardless of their research, 70% of individuals surveyed say that when it comes to their own personal health issues, they consulted a doctor or other health professional, with 65% of the vast majority saying that the interaction occurred offline.

Out of the 54% that turned to a family or friend for advice and support, 41% say that the encounter occurred outside the computer.

Even with the increased popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook, only a few people admitted to sharing personal health details on them.

Only about 11% of social network site users ““ 5% of U.S. adults ““ were reported to have posted comments, queries, or information about health or medical matters.

In addition, four percent of adults, or nine percent of social network users, say that they have started or joined a health related group on a social networking site.

The study says, “Social network sites are popular, but used only sparingly for health updates and queries.”

Social network sites are more likely used by caregivers and people with chronic health issues as tools for health causes than other social network users, resulting in twenty-eight percent of caregivers and 20 percent of people with chronic illnesses saying that they have gathered health information on these sites compared to 12 percent of other users.

With the increased access to broadband and mobile use, more and more people have the ability to share what they are doing or thinking; and in health care it translates to people tracking things such as workout routines, posting reviews of their medical treatments, and raising awareness about certain health conditions, the study suggests.

Although these activities are yet to become part of the mainstream, the study shows that there are pockets of highly engaged patients and caregivers who are taking an active role in tracking and sharing their experiences.

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