I Trust What I found: American Online Health Information

Pew just released another report on Online Health Search 2006. The study points out a number of interesting points.

  • About 80% of American use Internet seeking health information.
  • 66% of health seekers began their last online health inquiry at a search engine; 27% began at a health-related website.
    Note: How many do they consult the physicians or health professional prior to going online?
  • About 48% is proxy searching, on behalf of someone else while 36% search for their own sake. 8% for both reasons.
    What proportion of those who are in healthcare professionals (
    those who have background knowledge and have authority) and medical library workforce (those who have to search by their profession and have some degree of authority)?
  • 53% says what they found on the Internet had some sort of impact, especially those who had received a serious diagnosis or experienced a health crisis.
  • More than 50% felt reassured, confident, relieved, comforted, and eager to share information they found; some (about 20%) still felt overwhelmed, frustrated, confused, and frightened with that they found online.
  • Less-educated Americans are less likely to look online for health information and less likely to check the quality of information.
  • Health seekers’ success may bolster their sense of confidence about what they find online.
    Note: I’m not quite sure what do they mean by “success”. Is it just success of searching? How about success of treatment based on what they found online.? If it is just about search success/satisfaction, that could be scary. Then the study of how people make relevance judgment of online health information would be necessary.

Here comes the most interesting part:

  • about one-quarter consistently check the source and date of information they found.
  • The report cited Healthy People 2010 project which found that…

Of the 102 websites reviewed for the report, none met all six of the disclosure criteria and only six complied with more than three criteria. Just 4% of “frequently visited” health websites disclosed the source of the information on their pages and 2% disclosed how the content is updated. Less-popular health sites fared even worse: 0.3% of these sites listed their content’s source and only 0.1% disclosed how the content is updated.

  • They also referred to September 2006 Wall Street Journal/Harris Interactive online survey indicating that people check food label more often (about 34% says they check “very often”) than checking source and date of online information.

It seems likely that people pretty much trust online health information regardless of the quality of information. Hopefully those, who don’t care much about the quality of information, brought up what they found to their doctors (about 50% seems to do so) or share with their peers.

[PDF for the full report]


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