It’s no secret that the internet is shaking up the way people inform themselves about medical matters. According to a September survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 72% of US internet users and 59% of the general population had looked online for health information within the past year. Women were significantly more likely than men to search the internet for health information: 79% of female internet users had done so vs. 65% of male internet users.
The propensity to research health information online held surprisingly steady across internet users of all ages below 65—although younger health searchers were better represented in the total population figures since internet users in general tend to skew younger.
White internet users were 4 percentage points more likely than black internet users to have sought online health information, and 7 percentage points more likely than Hispanic internet users. The study also found that richer and better-educated individuals were more likely to have sought online health information than poorer and less-educated ones.
Many of those searching were looking for information on a specific medical problem or procedure. But other popular searches were responses to more general matters, such as weight loss, health insurance issues, and food or drug recalls. Overall, 16% of internet users said they had searched for information on a drug they had seen advertised.
In terms of demographics, women were more likely than men to say they had engaged in particularly common searches related to specific medical concerns or weight loss, but in most of the other categories the gender distribution was relatively equal.
A significant number of US consumers even rely on the internet to diagnose conditions—40% of women and 30% of men said they did this. Young consumers were most likely to report engaging in this practice—nearly half said they’d done so—perhaps reflecting less established relationships with medical professionals or lack of health insurance.
Higher-income and more educated consumers were also more likely to diagnose via the internet—a finding no doubt related to these groups’ greater appetite for online health information overall.
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