Study Finds Slowdown in Residents Using the Web for Health Information

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The percentage of U.S. residents who used the Internet to look up health information has grown at a slower pace in recent years, according to a study by the Center for Studying Health System Change, Modern Healthcare reports.

For the study, researchers analyzed telephone surveys of about 17,000 U.S. residents in 2010, 18,000 residents in 2007 and 60,000 residents in 2001 (Conn, Modern Healthcare, 11/23). The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provided funding for the study.

Study Findings

The study found that the percentage of U.S. adults who sought health information from sources other than their doctors increased from 38.8% in 2001 to 55% in 2007, but dropped to about 50% in 2010.

Researchers noted that the decline between 2007 and 2010 stemmed from fewer people seeking health information from:

  • Friends and relatives;
  • Print media; and
  • TV and radio (Versel, InformationWeek, 11/22).

During the study period, the Internet was the only category to see a steady increase in consumer interest, although the interest slowed toward the end of the decade. The percentage of U.S. residents who used the Internet to look up health information jumped from 15.9% in 2001 to 31.1% in 2007, then increased slightly to 32.6% in 2010 (Modern Healthcare, 11/23).

Researcher Comments on Findings

Ha Tu -- a researcher from the Center for Studying Health System Change -- said researchers did not expect the percentage of U.S. residents using the Internet for health information to "keep growing as fast as it did earlier in the decade." However, Tu added that the extent of the slowdown was surprising, especially considering that significantly more U.S. households had Internet access in 2010 than in 2007 (InformationWeek, 11/22).

Tu said, "The very abundance of information sources available about health -- particularly on the Internet -- may well be contributing to information overload, anxiety and confusion by some consumers," which could be causing fewer people to look beyond their doctors for health information (Lowes, Medscape, 11/22).

Bobby Lee
Study's headline of the survey reflects the fall of those seeking health information from 56% to 50% between 2007 and 2010 surveys. This “surprise” seems to be quite simple to explain – given the economy, researching about personal health concern is not on top of people’s priority list.

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