June 11, 2009

The Social Life of Health Information

Prescription or over-the-counter drugs

45% of internet users look online for information about prescription or over-the-counter drugs.

More Americans are looking online for information about prescription drugs and other treatments than they were in 2002, and more Americans are continuing to search for prescription and over-the-counter drugs than for alternative or experimental treatments.

Various treatments and medicines

Searches for prescription or over-the-counter drugs saw a significant jump over the last six years. Currently, 45% of online adults look for information about prescription or over-the-counter drugs, up from 34% in 2002.

Prescription drugs

Demographics

Some demographic groups are more likely than others to search for information about prescription and over-the-counter drugs online. Based on adult internet users:

  • Women are significantly more likely than men to look online for information about prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
  • Whites are more likely than African Americans or Hispanics to look online for information about prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
  • Those with at least some college education are significantly more likely than those with no college education to search online for information about prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
  • Internet users in households making $50,000 or more a year are significantly more likely than those making less than $30,000 to look online for information about prescription or over-the-counter drugs.

Prescription or over-the-counter drugs

While most adults looking online for information about specific treatments weigh many different options, those seeking prescription or over-the-counter drug information are less likely to look at alternative or experimental treatments.

Fifty-five percent of online adults have looked online for information about at least one of the following three methods of health treatment: prescription or over-the-counter drugs, alternative treatments or medicines, or experimental treatments or medicines. Of those who look online for drug or treatment information:

  • 42% have looked for information about only one method of treatment,
  • 58% have weighed at least two methods of treatment, and
  • 23% have looked into all three: prescription or over-the-counter drugs, alternative treatments or medicines, and experimental treatments or medicines.

Of those who said they look online for information about prescription or over-the-counter drugs, 37% only look for information on that type of treatment, while 63% also use the internet to find information about at least one other type of treatment (either alternative or experimental). The percentage of drug information seekers who look exclusively for information on prescription or over-the-counter drugs is significantly higher than the percentage of alternative and experimental treatment information seekers who only look for information about alternative or experimental treatment, respectively:

  • 15% of adults who look online for information about alternative treatments and medicines look exclusively for that information; they do not look for information on prescription or over-the-counter drugs or for experimental treatments or medicines.
  • 5% of adults who look online for information about experimental treatments and medicines look exclusively for that information; they do not look for information on prescription or over-the-counter drugs or for alternative treatments or medicines.

Prescription drug seekers

This difference in search habits suggests that those looking for information about alternative treatments – and especially those looking into experimental treatments – are much more likely to research, or have researched, other treatment options as well. On the other hand, those looking for prescription or over-the-counter drugs are less likely than those seeking alternative and experimental treatments to look into other methods of treatments.

Cite this publication: Susannah Fox and Sydney Jones. “The Social Life of Health Information.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (June 11, 2009) http://www.pewinternet.org/2009/06/11/the-social-life-of-health-information/, accessed on July 22, 2014.