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How People Really Use The Internet For Health

Everybody's looking for something.
Everybody's looking for something.

What's the Internet for? Finding information about health.

Clearly, I bought into the idea a while ago. But everybody's doing it. Really.

Eighty percent of adults who use the Internet have looked online for health info, according to national survey data just out from the Pew Internet & American Life Project and the California HealthCare Foundation.

And there are some details on exactly what people are looking for and how they're doing it.

Two-thirds of those health-info-seeking Internet users have looked up a specific disease or medical problem. More than half — 56 percent — have checked for info on a particular treatment, drug or procedure. Only 7 percent have looked for info on end-of-life decisions, though.

Beyond subject-oriented searches, a fair number of people also looking to tap into what other people know. More than a third of the Internet users have read someone's commentary, blog post or other account of their personal health experience.

Want to know one thing people aren't doing much? Looking for ratings of doctors and hospitals. Only 15 percent of the Internet surfers consulted ratings and rankings like those.

The findings come from a national telephone survey of 3,001 adults conducted last August and September. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Hensley edits stories about health, biomedical research and pharmaceuticals for NPR's Science desk. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has led the desk's reporting on the development of vaccines against the coronavirus.