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Americans increasingly turn to Web for health data

Study: 70% of Americans say Internet is a primary source for medical information

By Heather Havenstein
August 14, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Americans turn to the Internet as a primary source for medical and health information almost as much as they rely on their personal physicians, according to a poll released Tuesday.

The 2007 Consumer Medical and Health Information poll, commissioned by search engine Ask.com and performed by Harris Interactive Inc., revealed that 70% of adults use the Internet as a primary source for health information and that 72% describe their doctor as a primary source.

Of the more than 3,300 U.S. adults polled in early July, 40% reported using friends and family as a medical information resource, 30% said they turn to newspapers and magazines, and 26% called television a primary source of health data.

Two-thirds of those surveyed said they use search engines to gather information to help them better understand or diagnose a medical problem, and more than half reported doing searches for family and friends.

The study also found that 76% of adults older than 55 -- a group sometimes stereotyped as eschewing the Web -- use the Internet to help diagnose and better understand medical conditions. Almost one quarter of adults aged 18 to 34 noted in the poll that they use the Internet because they are too embarrassed to talk to anyone about their health issues.

Finally, nearly 28% of adults reported that they use the Internet to find alternative health options like homeopathic treatments.

In conjunction with the poll results, Ask.com announced a new feature on its site called Health Smart Answers, which is designed to help users find medical information faster.

The feature, developed with partners Healthline Networks Inc. and Revolution Health Group LLC, arranges search results so that those selected by the health care providers as trusted content on diseases, treatments, medications and other medical topics are listed first, the company said.
 
Healthline Networks, which operates a health care portal and is backed by insurers Aetna Inc. and Kaiser Permanente among others, and Revolution, a consumer and health Web site created by AOL co-founder Steve Case, provide definitions, images, links to reference materials and other data for Health Smart Answers.

Ask.com is not the only search engine turning an eye toward health care. In June, Google Inc. announced  that it was forming an advisory council on health care to help guide the company in delivering better search results and advise it on new product development.

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