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BizReport : Social Marketing : June 12, 2009

Pew dissects the social life of health information

Did you know that many Americans turn to the Internet for health information? While it's long been a joke to consult "Dr Google", it's not just a list of symptoms that searchers desire, but reviews and comments by other sufferers and experts, too.

by Helen Leggatt

pewinternet.gifSixty-one percent of Americans head online for health information, according to new research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. And, as someone who is going in for spine surgery next week, I can tell you that it's not just Americans.

And not everyone is punching in a list of symptoms and wading through pages upon pages of dodgy diagnosis. Instead many, like me, are searching for someone else's commentary on their experience with a particular medical issue or procedure.

Others are seeking reviews of doctors and hospital facilities or signing up to receive health and medical updates or multi-media content. Around 20% are even leaving comments or contributing.

"We are beginning to see e-patients turning to interactive features both to help them find information tailored to their needs and to post their own contributions," says Susannah Fox, associate director of the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project and a co-author of the study "The Social Life of Health Information".

"They treat the Internet as a supplement to traditional sources of information, using blogs, podcasts, and other online resources to deepen their understanding of a condition and sharpen their questions for a health professional."

Whether or not the medical fraternity agrees, the Pew research did find that a healthy 60% of respondents said they or someone they knew had been helped by information gleaned from the Internet.

Thankfully, just 3% of respondents reported themselves or someone they knew being harmed by following medical advice found online, a statistic that has remained unchanged since 2006.

Tags: blogs, Dr Google, health information, hospitals, medical issue, procedures, reviews

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