How healthy is the internet?

Pew Internet have just published their “Health Online 2013” research which makes for some fascinating reading (pdf).

 “….81% of U.S. adults use the internet and, of those, 72% say they have looked online for health information in the past year.”

Which, put a slightly different way finds that nearly three quarters of internet users use the web to check out health related information.

It’s worth repeating the header graphic findings, that of ALL (that’s circa 240 million1) US adults in the last year, using the internet as a diagnostic tool:

  1. 59% have looked online for health information.
  2. 35% (the online diagnosers) say they have used the internet to try to figure out what medical condition they or another may have.
  3. 53% of online diagnosers talked with a clinician about what they found online.
  4. 41% of online diagnosers had their condition confirmed by a clinician.

So in absolute terms with say 84 million online diagnosers, 45 million talked with a clinician about their findings and 34 million had their condition confirmed by a clinician.

If (and only if) the equivalent findings applied in the UK (with say 50 million adults) we might be talking about  18 million online diagnosers of whom 9 million talked with a clinician about their findings with 7 million having their condition confirmed by a clinician.

Of the 72% who said they had looked online for health information, or the “online health seekers” as Pew have christened them by far the majority 77% start at a search engine, 13% at a specialist site such as Web MD  and a very few (2%) at a general site like Wikipedia with an adventurous (to us) 1% starting on a Social Network site such as Facebook!

“26% of internet users who look online for health information say they have been asked to pay for access to something they wanted to see online. Of those who have been asked to pay, just 2% say they did so. Fully 83% of those who hit a pay wall say they tried to find the same information somewhere else. Thirteen percent of those who hit a pay wall say they just gave up.”  We guess that headline 26% figure would be much less over here with the likes of NHS Direct  being a comprehensive information source.

Click to enlarge

On the mobile front:

  • “Some 85% of U.S. adults own a cell phone and, of those, 31% say they have used their phone to look for health or medical information online.
  • Half of cell phone owners in the U.S. (53%) say that they own a smartphone. This translates to 45% of all American adults
  • 52% of smartphone owners have looked up health information on their phone, compared with just 6% of other cell phone owners.”

Unfortunately as far as we could see no information has been collected about tablet owners usage which we guess would be, in terms of “online health seekers” greater than the above smartphone 52% figure.



At the other end of the spectrum we heard, from an undoubtedly reliable source, of a local instance when a specialist clinician was asked for the success rate on a surgical procedure for a rather unusual condition they Googled it! On finding some “usually reliable” US data covering 20 such procedures undertaken some years ago they quoted this back to the patient. Hmmmmmm

All in all a very informative study from Pew which we thoroughly recommend reading. It is, we think,  particularily relevant as “wellbeing” and heath as internet topics/markets are reckoned to be in for a period of dynamic expansion.

Pew Internet – Health Online 2013 (Online report)

1 The US population is currently 315 million and their Census Bureau states that 23.7% were under 18 in 2011.

Survey methodology *summary & Pew Internet/California HealthCare Foundation

“The results reported here come from a nationwide survey of 3,014 adults living in the United States.

Telephone interviews were conducted by landline (1,808) and cell phone (1,206, including 624 without a landline phone). The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International.  Interviews were done in English and Spanish by Princeton Data Source from August 7 to September 6, 2012. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is ±2.4 percentage points.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project is an initiative of the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The Project is nonpartisan and takes no position on policy issues. Support for the Project is provided by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Support for this study was provided by the California HealthCare Foundation, an independent philanthropy committed to improving the way health care is delivered and financed in California.”

*Complete and copious survey detail is provided, as usual, by Pew Internet as part of their report

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