May 12, 2011

The Social Life of Health Information, 2011

“I don’t know, but I can try to find out” is the default setting for people with health questions.

The internet has changed people’s relationships with information. Our data consistently show that doctors, nurses, and other health professionals continue to be the first choice for most people with health concerns, but online resources, including advice from peers, are a significant source of health information in the U.S.

These findings are based on a national telephone survey conducted in August and September 2010 among 3,001 adults in the U.S. The complete methodology and results are appended to this report.

The survey finds that, of the 74% of adults who use the internet:

  • 80% of internet users have looked online for information about any of 15 health topics such as a specific disease or treatment. This translates to 59% of all adults.
  • 34% of internet users, or 25% of adults, have read someone else’s commentary or experience about health or medical issues on an online news group, website, or blog.
  • 25% of internet users, or 19% of adults, have watched an online video about health or medical issues.
  • 24% of internet users, or 18% of adults, have consulted online reviews of particular drugs or medical treatments.
  • 18% of internet users, or 13% of adults, have gone online to find others who might have health concerns similar to theirs.
  • 16% of internet users, or 12% of adults, have consulted online rankings or reviews of doctors or other providers.
  • 15% of internet users, or 11% of adults, have consulted online rankings or reviews of hospitals or other medical facilities.

Of those who use social network sites (62% of adult internet users, or 46% of all adults):

  • 23% of social network site users, or 11% of adults, have followed their friends’ personal health experiences or updates on the site.
  • 17% of social network site users, or 8% of adults, have used social networking sites to remember or memorialize other people who suffered from a certain health condition.
  • 15% of social network site users, or 7% of adults, have gotten any health information on the sites.

“I know, and I want to share my knowledge” is the leading edge of health care.

As broadband and mobile access spreads, more people have the ability – and increasingly, the habit – of sharing what they are doing or thinking. In health care this translates to people tracking their workout routines, posting reviews of their medical treatments, and raising awareness about certain health conditions.

These are not yet mainstream activities, but there are pockets of highly-engaged patients and caregivers who are taking an active role in tracking and sharing what they have learned.

Of adults who use the internet:

  • 27% of internet users, or 20% of adults, have tracked their weight, diet, exercise routine or some other health indicators or symptoms online.
  • 6% of internet users, or 4% of adults, have posted comments, questions or information about health or medical issues on a website of any kind, such as a health site or news site that allows comments and discussion.
  • 4% of internet users, or 3% of adults, have posted their experiences with a particular drug or medical treatment.
  • 4% of internet users, or 3% of adults, have posted a review online of a doctor.
  • 3% of internet users, or 2% of adults, have posted a review online of a hospital.

Of adults who use social network sites:

  • 14% of social network site users, or 6% of adults, have raised money for or drawn attention to a health-related issue or cause.
  • 11% of social network site users, or 5% of adults, have posted comments, queries, or information about health or medical matters.
  • 9% of social network site users, or 4% of adults, have started or joined a health-related group on a social networking site.

The social life of health information is robust. The online conversation about health is being driven forward by two forces:  1) the availability of social tools and 2) the motivation, especially among people living with chronic conditions, to connect with each other.

Cite this publication: Susannah Fox. “The Social Life of Health Information, 2011.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (May 12, 2011) http://www.pewinternet.org/2011/05/12/the-social-life-of-health-information-2011/, accessed on July 23, 2014.