Online Health Information


What Are We Looking For?

Eight in ten internet users look online for health information, according to Pew Research Center and the American Life Project. Looking online for health information is the third most popular online activity.

What exactly are we looking for? What are we finding? Let's take a look at some of the research findings. Then, let's look at the meaning behind the numbers. What else might the numbers be telling us?

Looking online for health information is the third most popular online activity.
Looking online for health information is the third most popular online activity.

Top 5 Internet Activities

  1. email
  2. use search engine

  4. get news
  5. buy a product

15 Most Searched Health Topics (from most common to least)

As shown in the table below, which ranks most searched topics from highest to lowest, the kind of health information we are looking for has also been identified.  Mostly, we want to know about  specific diseases or conditions.  Next we want to know how to treat the condition, or more about a certain treatment or procedure.  So, when the doctor tells us we need a colonoscopy or an antidepressant, we can learn more about the condition or the treatment.  We can better understand the risks and benefits, the alternatives, and the consequences of following or not following the doctor's recommendation.  We can communicate online with people who have had the condition or procedure.  This can help us make more informed choices, and can ease whatever anxiety we may have.  (I suppose it could also increase anxiety!)

#1 shingles
#1 shingles
#7 allergies
#7 allergies
#9 diabetes
#9 diabetes

Specific Disease or Medical Problem

As shown in the table above, 66% of internet users are looking for information about a specific condition. Researchers asked WebMD for a list of the most commonly searched conditions on their site. The top ten conditions searched at WebMD in 2010 are:

  1. shingles
  2. gall bladder
  3. gout
  4. hemorrhoids
  5. lupus
  6. skin problems
  7. allergies
  8. heart disease
  9. diabetes
  10. sleep disorders

Certain Medical Treatment or Procedure

The research shows that 56% of online users are looking for information about certain medical treatments or procedures. This is the second most searched topic. The most common treatments and procedures searched for on WebMD in 2010 were:

  1. pain relievers
  2. antidepressants
  3. high blood pressure medication
  4. corticosteroids
  5. hysterectomy
  6. diabetes medication
  7. ADHD medication
  8. antibiotics
  9. colonoscopy
  10. cholesterol lowering medication

Interesting! While we are researching conditions like shingles, gall bladder, gout and hemorrhoids, presumably because a lot of us have these conditions, we are not necessarily looking for ways to treat these conditions. While there may be some pain and depression associated with these conditions, it appears that what we are looking for is a pill to make us pain free, happy, or at least less angry, and that will allow us to live longer - ideally without having to change any eating, drinking, activity or smoking behaviors!

Research with a Spin

Admittedly, I added some spin to the numbers! My occupational bias is showing. It does strike me as odd that pain relievers, antidepressants and high blood pressure meds top the list. It also does occur to me that the #1 pain reliever searched for online is probably not Tylenol.

For readers in pursuit of pain relief and happiness, please click on the product links above and at the bottom of this hub! For those interested in learning more about the research, Pew Research Center, or Susannah Fox of Pew Research continue reading and click the links below.

For health information about the most searched diseases, conditions, treatments and procedures, click the condition or treatment of interest in blue letters above.  Other sources of reliable online health information include WebMD or 

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Americans are in Pain

According to a report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 2011, Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education, and Research, 116 million adults in the US experience chronic pain. That is more than the combined total of people affected by heart disease, cancer and diabetes. A link to my hub that summarizes that report is found below.


The research found that there are some demographic groups more likely than others to have internet access, and that these same demographic groups are more likely to seek health information online. The most likely groups to look online for health information are caregivers, women, whites, younger adults, and adults with at least some college education. African Americans, Latinos, people with disabilities, older adults, and adults with a high school education or less are least likely to look online for health information.

There is, however, a rise in wireless internet access, and young people, Latinos and African Americans are increasingly likely to use mobile devices. Health information may then be more accessible to these groups via mobile devices. The most vulnerable population groups, elderly and disabled, have the least access to up to date health information. Remember, however, caregivers are most likely users of online health information. Therefore, older adults and disabled persons with caregivers do have some access through their caregivers.

Susannah Fox - Internet Geologist

More by this Author

Comments 18 comments

Tony DeLorger profile image

Tony DeLorger 6 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia

Well researched and presented Kim. Good, useful hub.

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 6 years ago Author

Thank you, Tony. I've looked up a few of those topics myself. Of course, I am in the demographic group most likely to have done so!

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

I will look up a subject on an as needed basis. For example, I got a fungus infection in my lungs and had to take an extensive antibiotic treatment. I looked it up on the internet to supplement what my dotor told me.

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 6 years ago Author

Right, dahoglund. There were stories in the research about people getting information they were not able to get from their Dr that wound up saving their lives, but generally I wouldn't make a major decision about my health without talking to my Dr.

ocbill profile image

ocbill 6 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

I gotta pay more attention to webMD. The strange things is I work in the cosmetic health media. The top 5 I have not heard much about. Thanks

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 6 years ago Author

I love WebMD. Skin problems are #6 though. That's a lot of inquiries.....and traffic! Injuries aren't on there at all. It seems like it's more chronic conditions and treatments.

billyaustindillon profile image

billyaustindillon 6 years ago

Kim nice information - they do say how sickly and unhealthy our society has become - this truly underscores that.

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 6 years ago Author

hmmm. not so sure, billy. i agree as far as the search for pain relief and antidepressants; I think the book, prozac nation captured part of that. i don't think that the fact that people are searching for health information is an indication of an unhealthy society. that strikes me as a sign that people are becoming more aware of and knowledgeable about their health and health in general. Obesity is a huge problem, and it's not coming up as a highly searched topic. Neither is substance abuse or depression/suicide. Hmmm. Thanks billy!

vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 6 years ago from Nashville Tn.

Kim - I was recently diagnosed with low vitamin D. I picked up my prescription, read the directions (take 150,000 un. 1 time EACH DAY). I felt that the prescription seemed a little much, to say the least. But trusting my doctor and the pharmacy, I took the entire bottle. Then I decided to go to the internet and check out that amount. I found that it was toxic and called my Doctor. He immediately brought me in for blood tests. He then, lowered my D to 2,000.00 a day and took me off of calcium (I have some osteoporosis). So, your hub is a good reminder for us to not just follow the doctors orders, but to confirm, using medical sites. Thanks, Kim

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 6 years ago Author

oh my! Perfect example. Thanks vocal coach. That might even be another hub. Did you get symptoms of toxicity or did you catch it soon enough? What are symptoms of toxicity? I wasn't even sure if you could get too much Vit D. I thought it took really high doses of Vitamin D to get effects since the body doesn't store it, so I think I would have gone along pretty easily without questioning the 15,000 u dose. My husband and I watched an infomercial once about the benefits of vit D and he bought some, but in the mean time I heard something else that made me think it wouldn't be a good idea to take them, so we now have an unopened jar of vit D......I wonder how to properly dispose of those!

vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 6 years ago from Nashville Tn.

The daily dose of vit D that I took was 150,000 a day. The bloold tests came out ok (so I was told), but at the same time, I was taken off of calcium, so I am confused. Of you have taken an overdose of D. some organs can develop a calcification. To dispose of your D, empty each capsule (slit open if its an oil and mix into coffee grounds), if it is a tablet, crush first, then empty into grounds, place grounds in a bag in put in garbage. If I learn more about V. D., I will contact you. Thanks.

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 6 years ago Author

that would be confusing! I'd be interested in the info if you find it, but I think you should write a hub if you research it that much! ..... or a hub on why disposing of them in coffee grounds is good! I'll keep that in mind when we throw them out, but I'm going to investigate a little further myself. thanks vocalcoach!

vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 6 years ago from Nashville Tn.

You have give me an idea for my next hub and I want to thank you. I will be mentioning you in it. Thank you so much!

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 6 years ago Author

I can't wait to read it, vocalcoach. Now if I can just come up with an idea for my next hub!

Happyboomernurse profile image

Happyboomernurse 6 years ago from South Carolina

Interesting hub. I think it's good when people educate themselves through the internet as long as they are using reliable websites such as those you've listed in this hub- WebMD or Thanks for sharing this valuable information.

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 6 years ago Author

Thanks happyboomernurse. I do too. I think the peer discussions are good too, as long as the facts are checked out on one of those reliable sites.

Deborah Brooks profile image

Deborah Brooks 5 years ago from Brownsville,TX

I use WEB MD all the time.. I think everyone I know uses it.. It is great information,,.. this is a very good HUB.. very useful and interesting, plus the video.

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 5 years ago Author

Thanks Deborah Brooks. I love WebMD too. Another one I found recently is - especially their weight tracker and calorie counter tools. Susannah Fox's video is .... well, I think she's found an interesting niche in health and technology and social media.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article