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Study: More than a Quarter of American Adults Search Web for Health Information

November 20, 2012
by Gabriel Perna
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According to a recent study conducted by Harris Interactive, 26 percent of American adults that have used the internet have discussed health information online in the past 12 months. Thirty percent of those people have altered a health behavior as a result of these discussions. For those who hadn’t used the internet to search for information, they cited privacy concerns as the main reason why.

The study, which was commissioned by health IT vendor GE Healthcare, surveyed more than 2,100 Americans over the age of 18 in an attempt to see how social media can affect health behaviors. In the study, researchers found 42 percent of respondents who had discussed health information online had done so to seek or post information about a current medical condition or find clinical trials on a specific condition.

In addition, on why users had used online communities for healthcare discussions, 49 percent said it was because social media is a quick and easy way to get information or recommendations. Forty seven percent said it was a way to get different opinions from a wide range of people.

GE Healthcare recently commissioned an online survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, to gain more insight on whether or not social media, online communities, message boards and/or forums can encourage improved health behavior. At the same time, the company convened a panel of global experts through a virtual roundtable to discuss how social networking can best improve health. The results show that engagement is notable but there’s work to do to convert conversations into changes in behavior.

In terms of concerns with searching for health information online, 45 percent said they weren’t sure about trustworthiness. In addition, 44 percent said they were unsure the information was accurate. In a GE Roundtable discussing results of the study, experts found this should be a paramount issue for patients. “Perhaps most worrying is the fact that the validity of the information [on the internet] is not a prerequisite for promoting the information,” Bernie Hogan, M.D., a member of the Oxford Internet Institute, said in a statement. 

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