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?
Top 5 Internet Activities
- use search engine
LOOK FOR HEALTH INFORMATION
- 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!)
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:
- gall bladder
- skin problems
- heart disease
- 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:
- pain relievers
- high blood pressure medication
- diabetes medication
- ADHD medication
- 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 Health.gov .
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.
- Relieving Pain: Pain Relief for Americans
Pain is one of the leading reasons for doctor visits and one of the most common reasons for taking medications. The most common treatment searched for on WebMD in 2010 was for pain relievers. Severe chronic pain affects physical and mental functionin
- Health Topics | Pew Research Center\'s Internet & American Life Project
Food safety, drug safety, and pregnancy information are among eight new topics included in our survey, which finds that 80% of internet users gather health information online.
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.
- Helping Older Adults Learn Computer Skills and Find Reliable Online Health Information
The U.S Department of Health and Human Services has published a tool kit to be used by trainers to teach older adults computer skills and how to find health information online. The tool kit contains lesson...
- What people living with disability can teach us | Pew Research Center\'s Internet & American Lif
People living with disability are less likely than other adults in the U.S. to use the internet: 54%, compared with 81%. The first question many people ask when they hear that is, Why? The second is, What can be done? The third is, or should be, What
More about Susannah Fox and her Research
- Susannah Fox | Pew Research Center\'s Internet & American Life Project
Susannah Fox studies the cultural shifts taking place at the intersection of technology and health care. Her research has documented The Social Life of Health Information as well as the role of the internet among people living with chronic disease