February 1, 2011

Health Topics

Food safety, drug safety, and pregnancy information are among eight new topics included in our survey.

Health information remains one of the most important subjects that internet users research online. The Pew Internet Project and California HealthCare Foundation have added eight new topics to our national survey measuring internet users’ interest in health information:

  • 29% of internet users look online for information about food safety or recalls.
  • 24% of internet users look online for information about drug safety or recalls.
  • 19% of internet users look online for information about pregnancy and childbirth.
  • 17% of internet users look online for information about memory loss, dementia, or Alzheimer’s.
  • 16% of internet users look online for information about medical test results.
  • 14% of internet users look online for information about how to manage chronic pain.
  • 12% of internet users look online for information about long-term care for an elderly or disabled person.
  • 7% of internet users look online for information about end-of-life decisions.

Symptoms and treatments continue to dominate internet users’ health searches.

Six topics were repeated from previous surveys, in some cases adding to trends that date back to 2002:

  • 66% of internet users look online for information about a specific disease or medical problem (perennially in the top spot).
  • 56% of internet users look online for information about a certain medical treatment or procedure.
  • 44% of internet users look online for information about doctors or other health professionals.
  • 36% of internet users look online for information about hospitals or other medical facilities.
  • 33% of internet users look online for information related to health insurance, including private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid.
  • 22% of internet users look online for information about environmental health hazards.

Looking for health information is the third most popular online activity measured in our surveys.

Eight in ten internet users look online for health information, making it the third most popular online pursuit among all those tracked by the Pew Internet Project, following email and using a search engine.  Since one-quarter of adults do not go online, the percentage of health information seekers is 59% among the total U.S. adult population.

The survey finds that not only are some demographic groups more likely than others to have internet access, but these same groups are generally more likely to seek health information once online.

The most likely groups to look online for health information include:

  • Adults who, in the past 12 months, have provided unpaid care to a parent, child, friend, or other loved one
  • Women
  • Whites
  • Adults between the ages of 18-49
  • Adults with at least some college education
  • Adults living in higher-income households

By contrast, fewer than half of adults in the following groups in the U.S. look online for health information:

  • African Americans
  • Latinos
  • Adults living with a disability
  • Adults age 65 and older
  • Adults with a high school education or less
  • Adults living in low-income households ($30,000 or less annual income)

However, young people, Latinos, and African Americans are increasingly likely to use mobile devices to gather information, which could potentially shift the patterns among those groups when it comes to using health information resources.