The New Pew Online Health Survey:
The Online Health Revolution Continues
Our second major Pew Internet & American Life Report on e-Patients, Vital Decisions: How Internet users decide what information to trust when they or their loved ones are sick, is now available at www.pewinternet.org. Also available at the Pew Internet site: Search Engines: A Pew Internet Project Data Memo. Here are some of the key findings from these two reports:
From Vital Decisions: How Internet users decide what information to trust when they or their loved ones are sick
- Health seekers are overwhelmingly pleased with the results of their online searches, which often help them make decisions about when to consult doctors, which doctors to consult, what kind of treatments to pursue, and which medicines to take. 82 percent of e-patients say they can find the health information they need "most or all of the time." Another 16 percent say they can do so "sometimes." Only 2 percent said that they can do so "hardly ever."
- We found little evidence to suggest that inaccurate online health information has caused much harm. Just two percent of health seekers said they knew of someone who had been harmed by health information they had found online. By contrast, a third of all e-patients-and more than half of those who were ill-said that they knew of someone who had been "significantly helped" by online health resources.
- Fifty-eight percent said they had gone online because they were diagnosed with a new health problem. But a surprising 81 percent said that they had turned to the Internet because a friend or family member had been diagnosed with a new medical condition.
- The last time they went online, nine percent had communicated with a real person, e.g. a member of an online support group, the Webmaster of a health site, or an online health professional. And an earlier survey found that 9 percent of e-patients had participated in an online support group.
- When e-patients talked to their physicians about the information they had found online, our e-patients reported that their doctors agreed with their online sources 82 percent of the time. They only disagreed with the patients' online sources in 4 percent of such encounters.
(To read or download the full report, go to www.pewinternet.org. To see the raw data upon which these conclusions are based, click on "Download the Questionnaire.")
From Search Engines: A Pew Internet Project Data Memo
By the Fall of 2001, 73 million American adults had used the Internet to look for health information, up from 52 million in the fall of 2000. These e-patients use the Net to research prescription drugs, explore new ways to control their weight, and prepare for doctor's appointments, among other activities.
(To read or download the full report, go to www.pewinternet.org.)
The typical health seeker starts her hunt for medical information at a general search site, not a medical site. She visits two to five sites during an average visit. She (women are more likely than men to look for health information online) spends at least thirty minutes on a search. She feels reassured by advice that matches what she already knew about a condition and by statements that are repeated at more than one site. She is likely to turn away from sites that seem to be selling something or don't clearly identify the source of the information. And about one third of health seekers who find relevant information online bring it to their doctor for a final quality check.
Last time they searched for health advice, 81 percent of e-patients started at a search engine or use the search function of a general portal such as the Yahoo home page, MSN, or AOL. Fifteen percent of the health seekers started at a site that specializes in health information, like WebMD. Those who used a search query on a search engine were more focused on getting the information fast than in finding a trusted name. Forty-five percent started at the top of the search results and worked their way down. Thirty-nine percent read the results list and then clicked on the items that seemed to be the most relevant. Only twelve percent clicked on a site because they recognized the sponsor or name.
Published in The Ferguson Report,
Number 9, September 2002