Makin' Money

Where do you go when you need health information?

Daryl Paranada Nov 11, 2010

The last time you wanted to find an answer to a health-related question did you turn to the Internet first or your doctor?

If you answered the Web, you’re not alone. While Americans continue to use traditional sources of information to answer their health questions, 57% of adults turn to the Web, according to a Pew study.

“Health questions don’t often crop up at convenient times,” says Susannah Fox, associate director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. “If you’re out and about, you want to know right now what your symptoms might mean.”

According to the Social Life of Health Information study by Pew, published in June 2009, when consumers need health information:

  • 86% of all adults ask a health professional
  • 68% of all adults ask a friend or family member
  • 57% of adults use the Internet
  • 54% use books or other printed reference material
  • 33% contact their insurance provider
  • 5% use another source not mentioned in the above list

Ellen Frank, 42, a doctoral student from Evanston, Ill., says she goes online for pretty much everything — from learning more about symptoms her 11-year-old son is experiencing to gathering information about losing weight.

“It’s incredibly quick, incredibly easy and available to me whenever I want it,” she said. “When something scary has come out, being able to immediately — within minutes — get answers to understand what’s going on? That is the most immediate relief when uncertainty is the biggest question.”

What’s your first stop when you have a health question? Take our poll and let us know. Plus, read our article on how consumer technology is transforming health care.

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