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More Americans Seeking Health Information, Especially on the Internet

Education Level Remains Key in Likelihood of Seeking Health Information

News Release
Aug. 21, 2008

FURTHER INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Alwyn Cassil (202) 264-3484 or acassil@hschange.org

WASHINGTON, DC—In 2007, 56 percent of American adults—more than 122 million people—sought information about a personal health concern from a source other than their doctor, up from 38 percent, or 72 million people, in 2001, according to a national study released today by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC).

Consumers who actively researched health concerns widely reported positive impacts—more than half said the information changed their overall approach to maintaining their health, and four in five said that the information helped them to better understand how to treat an illness or condition, according to findings from HSC’s 2007 Health Tracking Household Survey, a nationally representative survey containing information on 18,000 people; the survey had a 43 percent response rate.

Across all categories of age, education, income, race/ethnicity and health status, consumers increased their information seeking significantly, but education level remained the key factor in explaining how likely people are to seek health information. In 2007, for example, 72 percent of people with a graduate education sought health information, compared with 42 percent of those without a high school diploma.

"Across the board, more Americans are seeking health information from sources other than their doctors, but despite the striking jump, there is still a significant minority—about 45 percent—who didn’t seek any information about a personal health concern during the past 12 months," said Ha T. Tu, M.P.A., an HSC senior researcher and coauthor of the study with Genna R. Cohen, an HSC health research assistant. HSC is a nonpartisan health policy research organization funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funded the survey and the study.

The study’s findings are detailed in a new HSC Tracking Report—Striking Jump in Consumers Seeking Health Care Information—available here. Other key findings include:

  • Use of all information sources rose substantially, but the proportion of Americans using the Internet as an information source grew the most rapidly, doubling from 16 percent in 2001 to 32 percent in 2007, according to the study. Consumers’ use of the Internet for health information is now on par with their use of the more traditional, longstanding sources of books, magazines and newspapers (33%) and friends or relatives (31%), which also increased significantly since 2001.
  • Although elderly Americans sharply increased their information seeking, they still trail younger Americans by a substantial margin, especially in using Internet information sources. Nearly half of Americans 65 and older (48%) sought health information in 2007, up from 31 percent in 2001. Likewise, the proportion of seniors using the Internet to seek health information increased from 7 percent in 2001 to 18 percent in 2007.
  • People with chronic conditions are more likely to seek health information. For example, two in three people with two or more chronic conditions (66%) sought health information in 2007, compared with one in two people without any chronic conditions (50%).
  • After accounting for other personal characteristics, women are more likely than men, younger consumers are more likely than older consumers, whites and African Americans are more likely than Hispanics, and people with the highest incomes are more likely than those with the lowest incomes to seek health information. These differences, unlike education, are mostly modest to moderate in magnitude.
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The Center for Studying Health System Change is a nonpartisan policy research organization committed to providing objective and timely research on the nation’s changing health system to help inform policy makers and contribute to better health care policy. HSC, based in Washington, D.C., is funded principally by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and is affiliated with Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

 

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