February 1, 2011

Health Topics

Health Topics

Health topics are listed from the most commonly-searched to the least.

Not surprisingly, some questions are perennially at the top of the list among internet users looking online for health information: What do I have? How do I treat it? Who can help me figure this out? Where should I go to get a procedure done? The Pew Internet Project and California HealthCare Foundation added some new topics to the list this year such as food safety, drug safety, and how to manage chronic pain.  What follows are all the health topics included in the survey, from the most commonly-searched to the least.

Specific disease or medical problem

66% of internet users look online for information about a specific disease or medical problem.

Caregivers, women, internet users with a college degree, and internet users living with chronic conditions (particularly those with high blood pressure) lead all other groups in their interest in researching specific diseases or medical problems. Fully three-quarters of each of these groups look online for this type of health information.

This topic has been in the top spot since the Pew Internet Project began measuring internet users’ interest in health topics in 2002, when 63% of internet users said they looked online for information about a specific disease or medical problem.1

To give an idea of the types of information people are looking for online, we asked one of the top health websites, WebMD.com, for a list of the most commonly searched conditions in 2010:

  1. Shingles
  2. Gallbladder
  3. Gout
  4. Hemorrhoids
  5. Lupus
  6. Skin Problems
  7. Allergies
  8. Heart Disease
  9. Diabetes
  10. Sleep Disorders

Certain medical treatment or procedure

56% of internet users look online for information about a certain medical treatment or procedure.

Caregivers, women, those with a college degree, internet users living with chronic conditions (particularly those with lung conditions and high blood pressure), and parents with children living at home lead all other groups in their interest in researching certain medical treatments. Two-thirds of each of these groups looks online for this type of health information.

This topic has been the second-most popular topic since the Pew Internet Project began measuring internet users’ interest in health topics in 2002, when 47% of internet users said they looked online for information about a certain medical treatment or procedure.

The most commonly searched-for treatments on WebMD in 2010 were as follows:

  1. Pain relievers
  2. Anti-depressants
  3. High blood pressure medication
  4. Corticosteroids
  5. Hysterectomy
  6. Diabetes medication
  7. ADHD medication
  8. Antibiotics
  9. Colonoscopy
  10. Cholesterol-lowering medication

Doctors or other health professionals

44% of internet users look online for information about doctors or other health professionals.

Caregivers, women, those with a college degree, and parents with children living at home lead all other groups in looking online for information about doctors or other health professionals. Half of internet users in each of these groups look online for this type of health information.

Generation X internet users (ages 34-45) are the most likely age group to look online for information about health professionals: 51%, compared with 41% of internet users in their 20s and 42% of internet users between 56-64 years old, for example.

This is the second time Pew Internet has asked about this health topic and the results have not changed significantly over time: in 2008, 47% of internet users looked online for information about health professionals.2

Hospitals or other medical facilities

36% of internet users look online for information about hospitals or other medical facilities.

Caregivers, women, those with a college degree, those between 34-45 years old, and parents with children living at home lead all other groups in looking online for information about this topic. Four in ten internet users in each of these groups look online for information about hospitals or other medical facilities.

In 2008, the first time hospitals were singled out in a question, 38% of internet users said they looked online for this type of information, which is not significantly different from the current measurement.

Health insurance

33% of internet users look online for information related to health insurance, including private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid.

Caregivers, college graduates, and those living with chronic conditions (particularly high blood pressure) are among the likeliest groups to research this topic online. Four in ten internet users in each of these groups look online for information about health insurance, either public or private.

Pew Internet has asked this form of the health insurance question since 2008 and interest has held steady at one-third of the internet population. Prior surveys split the question – one for health insurance, the other for Medicare/Medicaid – but the results were essentially the same.3

Food safety

29% of internet users look online for information about food safety or recalls.

Caregivers, women, college graduates, those between 34-45 years old, and parents with children living at home lead all other groups in looking online for information about food safety. One-third of internet users in these groups have looked online for this type of information.

This is the first time Pew Internet has measured internet users’ interest in this topic.

Drug safety

24% of internet users look online for information about drug safety or recalls.

Caregivers, women, college graduates, and internet users living with chronic conditions (particularly those with lung conditions) lead all other groups in their interest in drug safety information. Age is also a significant predictor: 29% of Generation X internet users (34-45) say they have done this type of research online, compared with 21% of internet users ages 46-55 years old.

This is the first time Pew Internet has measured internet users’ interest in this topic.

Environmental health hazards

22% of internet users look online for information about environmental health hazards.

This topic is of equal interest across the board when it comes to men, women, age groups, and those with various levels of education. Caregivers and those living with chronic conditions (particularly lung conditions) are more likely than other groups to look online for information about environmental health hazards.

Environmental health hazards has risen a bit in popularity among internet users since 2002, when 17% of internet users said they had researched this topic online.

Pregnancy and childbirth

19% of internet users look online for information about pregnancy and childbirth.

As one would expect, gender and age are the significant predictors of interest in this topic. One in four female internet users (24%) has looked online for information about pregnancy and childbirth, compared with 13% of male internet users. Fully 31% of internet users between the ages of 18 and 33 have looked online for information about pregnancy and childbirth, compared with 25% of those between 34-45 years old, and just 5% of internet users age 46 or older. Current parents are also more likely than internet users who do not have children living at home to do this type of research (32%, compared with 12%).

This is the first time Pew Internet has measured internet users’ interest in this topic.

Memory loss, dementia, or Alzheimer’s

17% of internet users look online for information about memory loss, dementia, or Alzheimer’s.

Women, caregivers, and those living with chronic conditions (particularly lung conditions) outstrip other groups in their interest in this topic. One in four internet users in each of the groups named above use the internet to look for information about mental decline.

This is the first time Pew Internet has measured internet users’ interest in this topic.

Medical test results

16% of internet users look online for information about medical test results.

College graduates, caregivers, and those living with chronic conditions are the most likely groups to use the internet to get information about medical test results.

This is the first time Pew Internet has measured internet users’ interest in this topic.

How to manage chronic pain

14% of internet users look online for information about how to manage chronic pain.

Caregivers and those living with chronic conditions (particularly lung conditions) report the highest interest in this topic.

This is the first time Pew Internet has measured internet users’ interest in chronic pain management.

Long-term care

12% of internet users look online for information about long-term care for an elderly or disabled person.

Women, those living with chronic conditions, and older adults are more likely than other groups to say they have looked online for this type of information. Not surprisingly, one in five caregivers has researched long-term care for a loved one, marking the highest level of interest among any group.

This is the first time Pew Internet has measured internet users’ interest in this topic.

End-of-life decisions

7% of internet users look online for information about end-of-life decisions.

This topic garners essentially the same level of interest across all demographic groups, with a slight uptick among caregivers.

This is the first time Pew Internet has measured internet users’ interest in this topic.

Any other health issue

28% of internet users look online for information about any other health issue.

This question is one of the “catch-all” questions included in a survey which sometimes reveal lost opportunities. For example, fully 40% of caregivers say yes to this question, showing that the survey may only have scratched the surface of the health topics they spend their time on.

  1. numoffset=”15″ “Internet Health Resources” (Pew Internet Project: July 16, 2003). Available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2003/Internet-Health-Resources.aspx
  2. “The Social Life of Health Information” (Pew Internet Project: June 11, 2009). Available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2009/8-The-Social-Life-of-Health-Information.aspx
  3. “Online Health Search 2006″ (Pew Internet Project: October 29, 2006). Available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2006/Online-Health-Search-2006.aspx