More are searching the Web for medical advice

Photo: More are searching the Web for medical advice

The number of adults who turn to the Internet for health information has nearly doubled in the past two years, from 31% to 60%, according to a study.

That puts the Internet in a tie for third place (with books and print materials) as the source adults most often turn to for health information.

At the top, 86% of those surveyed say they most often consult a health care professional, and 68% say they consult their family or friends first.

The increase is partly because there are more Internet users than there were when the survey was last taken in 2006, says Susannah Fox, associate director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a non-profit research organization.

The new survey, conducted in December, reached 2,253 people by landline phone and 502 by cellphone.

"As people are widening their networks, they are still maintaining their primary relations — consulting their doctor, consulting their mom, consulting a friend," Fox says.

The survey found that about half of all online health searches are on behalf of someone else, and that 59% of users who go to the Internet for health information have read blogs or online comments made by others, what Fox calls "passive consumption."

Heather Cabot, Yahoo's Web life editor, has her theories about why many adults may turn to the Internet for health advice.

"Unlike the doctor's office, the Web is open 24/7, and it's increasingly accessible in all of the spaces where we live and work," she says.

"People are turning to the Internet for instant information while they wait for a diagnosis or a call back from a health provider," Cabot says.

"They are becoming advocates for themselves as patients by researching illnesses and health care information through the vast resources of the Web."

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