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What Health Info Do Consumers Seek Online?

Women, seniors, caregivers want different kinds of online health info

February 28, 2013

The internet is an increasingly important source of information for people researching health and healthcare. Women, seniors and caregivers are some of the most well-represented groups among online health seekers, but, according to a new eMarketer report, “Online Health Information Seekers: Internet Use Grows, but Doctors' Orders Still Apply,” each has very different needs when they look to the internet to learn more about a medical condition or treatment.

Comparative Estimates: US Consumers Who Go Online for Health Information, 2011 & 2012 (% of respondents)

Women play an outsized role in the world of online health. In a 2011 survey by BabyCenter, a pregnancy and parenting website, 86% of women said they made the decisions about the healthcare treatments their entire families used. While most said they trusted their doctors, they still went online before and after office visits to learn more about prescribed treatments and diagnosed health conditions.

Enspektos, a company that provides marketing services to healthcare organizations, found in January 2012 that nearly one-third of moms searched the internet for health information once a day or every few days.

Frequency with Which US Mom Internet Users Consult Select Digital Channels for Health Content, Jan 2012 (% of respondents)

Enspektos also found that among moms who had apps on their mobile devices, nearly half had downloaded health apps.

For seniors, the health information they seek is more specialized. The National Network of Libraries of Medicine said, for example, that “older adults use more medical services and acquire more chronic illnesses than other population segments.” Yet the American Academy of Family Physicians found that half of the US seniors it surveyed in March 2012 felt there wasn’t a single online resource where they could find highly credible health information, including information about prescription drugs for the elderly (14%) and preventative medical care for seniors (13%).

Top 5 Types of Hard-to-Find Health Information According to US Seniors, March 2012 (% of respondents)

Caregivers too have different online needs than people who are looking for health information for themselves. Finding information about health insurance and advice on living with a chronic condition or managing chronic pain are especially important, according to a Kantar Media study from March.

Pharma product and disease-state websites also play an important role in the search for online health information and can directly lead to patients asking for specific treatment options.

Among those who look to the internet for health information, there is a desire for an “official” source. Deloitte reported in February 2012 that the websites of physician groups or medical practices were US internet users’ most trusted sources for treatment information. That was followed by academic medical centers and teaching hospitals that maintain health information sites for consumers.

Sources that US Internet Users Trust for Treatment Information on a Health Condition, Feb 2012 (% of respondents)

The full report, “Online Health Information Seekers: Internet Use Grows, but Doctors' Orders Still Apply” also answers these key questions:

  • How many people use the internet for health information?
  • How do moms use the internet for health purposes, and how does their use differ from that of other groups?
  • What kinds of information are online health seekers looking for?
  • What are the online health information needs specific to seniors?

This report is available to eMarketer corporate subscription clients only. eMarketer clients, log in and view the report now.

Check out today’s other articles, “For B2B SMBs, Twitter Gets the Best Social Leads” and “Consumer Goods Dominate Digital Video Ads in Canada.”


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