PEW: Health Research Begins On Search Engines

Vitamins-ABrands tied to health- or nutrition-related topics have an opportunity to connect with consumers online through content or paid-search advertising. Some 77% of consumers participating in an Internet & American Life Project study said they began at a search engine such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo to research a product or ailment, compared with 13% who began at a site specializing in health information, such as WebMD.

Just 2% say they started their research at a more general site like Wikipedia, and an additional 1% said they started at a social network site like Facebook. Overall, 81% of U.S. adults use the Internet and 59% have looked online for health information in the past year, according to the Pew Research Center study.

It turns out that eight in 10 online health inquiries start at a search engine, with 72% of Internet users admitting they looked online for health information during the past year. This includes searches related to serious conditions, general information searches, and searches for minor health problems.

Women are more likely than men to seek health information online. Overall, diseases and treatments continue to dominate online search queries. In the past 12 months, 55% of survey participants have searched for specific disease or medical problems, 43% searched for medical treatments or procedures, 27% looked for ways to lose weight or how to control their weight, 25% wanted information on health insurance, and 19% searched on information about food safety or recalls.

Mobile devices are also become a tool. Some 31% of the 85% of adults who said they own a mobile phone have used it to look for health or medical information online. Latinos and African Americans between the ages of 18 and 49, and those who have at least some college education, use mobile to look up health information more frequently than others.

The study also examines the willingness to find like-minded individuals in social sites such as Facebook. Some 24% of adults said they have turned to others who have the same health condition during their last bout with illness, and 26% have read or watched someone else's experience in a video about health or medical issues in the last 12 months.

Some 16% of Internet users have gone online to find others who might share the same health concerns in the last year. Eleven percent of Internet users have signed up to receive email updates or alerts about health or medical issues in the past year, and 12% have downloaded forms online or applied for health insurance online in the past year.

Interestingly, people are willing to share their personal experience. Some 40% say they posted comments or stories about personal health experiences, 19% posted specific health questions, and 38% posted both. The study makes it clear that healthcare reviews and online services have not caught up with consumer needs.

The survey, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, compiles results from 3,014 U.S. adults living in the United States.

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