Pew: Eight In 10 Seek Health Info Online

Doctors might fret that people are diagnosing and treating themselves based on the information they find online--information that is sometimes inaccurate--but the vast majority of U.S. Web users continue to seek online answers to their medical questions. That's a major finding from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which Sunday released its latest study about online health search.

Pew reported that 80% of U.S. Web users search for health information online--about the same proportion as in 2002 and 2004.

Approximately two-thirds (66%) of those who investigate health issues online begin at a search engine, while 27% begin at a health-related Web site, according to Pew. Most people--72%--also visited at least two sites when seeking health information.

Forty-eight percent said they searched for information on behalf of someone else, while 36% said they sought answers for their own medical situations. Pew also reported that parents were more likely than others to search for information on behalf of others; 54% of those researching medical issues who lived with a child conducted their most recent online health research on behalf of someone else.

Fifty-three percent of people seeking medical information said the results of their Internet research had an impact on how they take care of themselves or someone else. But that group also seemed to use the information they found online in conjunction with information from a professional. In fact, 54% of those who said the Internet research had an impact on them said they ask a doctor new questions or get a second opinion.

The study comes at a time when publishers are devoting resources to online health sites. For example, earlier this month, Waterfront Media formally launched an ad-supported health network.

Pew's study was based on August telephone interviews with nearly 3,000 U.S. adults.

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