Online Medical Research Behavior

Statistics about online medical research behavior by both consumers and physicians:

Online Consumer Medical Research Behavior

  • According to Harris Interactive, 78% of US adult Internet users had searched for health information online as of 2009.
  • 2 percent of all Web queries are health-related; about a third of the subjects “escalated” their follow-up searches to explore serious illnesses. Cyberchondria: Studies of the Escalation of Medical Concerns in Web Search, November 2008. New York Times, November 24, 2008.
  • According to The Social Life of Health Information Report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project and the California HealthCare Foundation, 61% of US adults went online for health information.
    • 41% of e-patients have read someone else’s commentary or experience about health or medical issues on an online news group, website, or blog.
    • 24% of e-patients have consulted rankings or reviews online of doctors or other providers.
    • 24% of e-patients have consulted rankings or reviews online of hospitals or other medical facilities.
    • 19% of e-patients have signed up to receive updates about health or medical issues.
    • 13% of e-patients have listened to a podcast about health or medical issues.
    • 6% of e-patients have tagged or categorized online content about health or medical issues.
    • 6% of e-patients report that they have posted comments, queries, or information about health or medical matters in an online discussion, listserv, or other online group forum.
    • 5% of e-patients say they have posted comments about health on a blog.
    • 5% of e-patients have posted a review online of a doctor.
    • 4% of e-patients have posted a review online of a hospital.
    • 4% have shared photos, videos or audio files online about health or medical issues.
    • 39% of e-patients use a social networking site like MySpace and Facebook and, of those, only a small portion have followed their friends’ personal health experiences or updates, posted their own health-related comments, gotten any health information, or joined a health-related group.
    • 12% of e-patients use Twitter or another service to share updates about themselves or to see updates about others, and of those, few have posted comments, queries, or information about health or medical matters.


  • According to The Social Life of Health Information Report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project and the California HealthCare Foundation:
    • 60% say the information found online affected a decision about how to treat an illness or condition.
    • 56% say it changed their overall approach to maintaining their health or the health of someone they help take care of.
    • 53% say it lead them to ask a doctor new questions, or to get a second opinion from another doctor.
    • 49% say it changed the way they think about diet, exercise, or stress management.
    • 38% say it affected a decision about whether to see a doctor.
    • 38% say it changed the way they cope with a chronic condition or manage pain.


  • 63% of teens go to their parents/guardians for information about health and nutrition. 50% turn to the Internet. 68% of 13-15 year-olds cite their parents as the source they turn to with their health and nutrition questions, versus 45% of 16-17 year-olds. When teens reach the age of 16, however, the Internet trumps parents as the source for health information. Fifty-eight percent of teens ages 16 and up go online for health information, versus 45% of those ages 15 and under. Teen Health Perceptions from the Scarborough Kids Internet Panel, August 2009
  • Nearly one-half of Internet users responding to a survey by said they used a search engine to find more data about their specific medical condition. Another 20% went to health Websites to get more info, and others used search engines to find out more about treatment options and prescription drugs. Just 35% of Internet users simply trusted their doctor without looking to the Web. August 2009 survey; eMarketer, September 10, 2009
  • Nearly one-half of consumers looked for information on a specific disease or problem, 41% needed information on a specific medical procedure, 35% were looking for a doctor and 33% wanted information on prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Almost two-thirds of women researched health issues online, compared with 57% of men. 65% of whites, 51% of African-Americans and 44% of Hispanics searched for health information. The vast majority of people with a health question or concern say they consult a health professional (86%) or a friend or family member (68%). June 11, 2009 Pew Internet & American Life Project. eMarketer, June 29, 2009
  • According to The Social Life of Health Information Report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project and the California HealthCare Foundation:
    • A specific disease or medical probl em (49% of adults, up from 36% in 2002)
    • A medical treatment or procedure (41% of adults, up from 27%)
    • Exercise and fitness information (38% of adults, up from 21%)
    • Prescription or over-the-counter drugs (33% of adults, up from 19%)
    • Alternative treatments or medicines (26% of adults, up from 16%)
    • Depression, anxiety, stress or mental health issues (21% of adults, up from 12%)
    • Experimental treatments or medicines (15% of adults, up from 10%)
    • Doctors or other health professionals (35% of adults)
    • Hospitals or other medical facilities (28% of adults)
    • Health insurance, including private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid (27% of adults)
    • How to lose weight or how to control your weight (24% of adults)
    • How to stay healthy on a trip overseas (9% of adults)
  • US adult Internet users are ready to use a range of doctor-provided online tools and services, according to Deloitte. In fact, more than one-quarter of respondents said they would be willing to pay extra in order to get same-day appointments and electronic access to medical records and test results. 2008 Survey of Health Care Consumers, February 28, 2008. eMarketer, June 18, 2008.

Online Medical Research Behavior By Doctors/Physicians

  • The number of physicians who use the internet and other digital technologies to access pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical-device information has jumped 20% since 2004 and accounts for 84% of the total US physician population, according to the ePharma Physician v8.0 study from Manhattan Research. The research also finds that 36% of physicians now communicate with patients online (up from 19% in 2003), and that physicians are more active than the average consumer when it comes to new media. ePharma Physician v8.0, Q2, 2008.
    • 54% of US physicians own a smartphone
    • Google is the most popular search engine among physicians, with 91% reach among physicians searching for health and pharmaceutical information online.
    • 83% of physicians watch video clips online, as compared with 34% of all US adults.
    • Physicians using online communities – such as Sermo and Medscape Connect – are more likely to be primary care physicians, be female, own a PDA/smartphone, go online during or between patient consults, and be slightly younger than the average physician.
    • Physicians on average conduct 41% of their pharmaceutical and medical device research online. This number is expected to reach 50%.
    • About 45,000 US physicians met online with a sales rep over the past year, and more than 300,000 more show interest in interacting with sales or other company representatives.
    • Many physicians report an interest in call centers that give them access to a company representative (not their dedicated sales rep) via telephone or web chat 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
    • Product websites are often one of the first places physicians visit when researching treatment and prescribing information and updates for a particular product.
    • The New England Journal of Medicine, American Family Physician and the Annals of American Medicine are the top three online journals among physicians.
    • Reading online medical journals has been one of the fastest growing professional activities for physicians, growing at a double-digit rate over the past three years.
    • Attending virtual conferences is a professional activity that has grown at a double-digit rate over the past three years.
  • 39% of doctors think that using an iPhone while diagnosing their patients make them look more competent in their patients’ eyes. A majority of patients report feeling more confident their provider is confirming clinical information. iPhone World, September 15, 2008
  • More than 60 percent of the 2,000 physicians surveyed reported avoiding at least one adverse drug event (ADE) per week by using Epocrates’ software on an iPhone. June 18, 2009 Epocrates press release
  • 100,000 physicians use Epocrates on iPhone. July 22, 2009 Epocrates press release

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