February 25, 2013

How many people use “ask a doctor” sites?

Here’s a question I received that I thought was worth a public answer:

How many people go online to seek a doctor’s opinion about something, such as on an “ask a doctor” site?

Pew Research has not asked a survey question that specifically measures that activity, but we have something pretty close, based on our September 2012 national phone survey:

8% of internet users say they have, in the past 12 months, posted a health-related question online or shared their own personal health experience online in any way.

Of those:

  • 40% say they posted comments or stories about personal health experiences
  • 19% say they posted specific health questions
  • 38% say they posted both

Also based on the small group — just 8% of internet users:

  • 78% of those who posted a comment, story, or question about their health say that they did so to reach a general audience of friends or other internet users.
  • 11% say they posted somewhere specifically to get feedback from a health professional.
  • 4% say they posted for both a general and a professional audience.
  • 5% say none of those choices fit.

I’m not going to do the math, but it’s clear that only a tiny group of U.S. adults has, in the past year, posted a question online for a doctor to answer. The more common activity, which isn’t surprising at all, is to post a question or story for peers, family, and friends to ponder. That’s the basic idea behind peer-to-peer healthcare.

Join the discussion on my personal blog.