77 Percent Of Online Health Seekers Start At Search Engines [Pew Study]

google-health-computer-featuredAlthough there’s long been a debate over the accuracy of health information online, many U.S. Internet users aren’t hesitant to use the Web when they want answers to health-related questions. And rather than dedicated health sites, the vast majority of them begin their research at a search engine.

A new study out tonight from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project says that 72 percent of U.S. Internet users have gone online in the past year specifically for health-related information, and 77 percent of that group says their research started at Google, Bing or another general search engine.

That’s significantly more than the 13 percent that begin at health portals like WebMD, general information sites like Wikipedia (only two percent) and social networks (one percent).


(The remaining votes, not shown, were respondents who indicated “Other,” “Don’t Know” or who refused to answer.)

Those numbers skew a little higher among younger health seekers. Pew says that 82 percent of respondents 18-29 years old start at a search engine, compared to 73 percent of those 50 and older.

What about mobile?

Pew says that, overall, 31 percent of cell phone owners say they’ve used their phone to look for health information online. As you’d expect, that number jumps to 52 percent when specifically considering smart phone owners.

The debate over health information and the Web has been going on for years, with many doctors urging patients to not rely so much on Google for health research, and lamenting the fact that they often have to correct misinformation that patients find online, or correct incorrect conclusions that patients draw after doing health research online.

In 2008, a Microsoft study investigated “cyberchondria” — a term used to describe how sometimes online health research makes people think their health is worse than it really is. Around that same time, though, the practice of online health research earned an endorsement from a recognizable figure when Dilbert creator Scott Adams revealed how Google helped him diagnose a speech defect known as Spasmodic Dysphonia.

The Pew research released tonight is from a survey of 3,014 U.S. adults between August 7 and September 6, 2012.

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Search & Society: General | Search Engines: Health & Medical Search Engines | Stats: Search Behavior | Top News


About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • phillip riback

    That’s good

  • http://twitter.com/Ebrarkahn Ebrar kahn

    It would be interesting to see what’s the percentage in UK.

  • http://twitter.com/AaronAlexander_ Aaron Alexander

    I wonder why affiliate marketing is so huge in the health sector? Couldn’t be because 77% start with queries on a search engine? Maybe that people searching in the health sector for answers, are more likely to search with an almost “desperate emotion” for a “cure” that tends to overlook logic and makes purchases with a starry eyed hope. Couple that with companies that bank on the fact that once purchased, a large percent will be too lazy to care or return a product. What affiliate marketer would take advantage of that? Bueller, Anyone? ; ]

  • Kobra

    The fastest way to get trusted results is by using the “Health Group” in DiCheetal. See how it works at http://dicheetal.blogspot.com/

  • alex velea

    I believe it’s a big mistake to search online for symptoms, I know it from my own experience, I was feeling sick and I searched for different symptoms and I had all the disease in the world, but infact I had a splenic cyst and guess what, I didn’t find it on searches, just on a RMN :)

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