October 4th, 2010
06:27 PM ET

Health info online: The stakes are higher

Today  guest blogger  Mary Ann Belliveau, Google's health industry director, shares new findings and insights on how consumers find and use health information on the web.

Just about everything is online these days and so, for users to be looking for health information on the web is almost a given.  But working 15 years in health care and nearly nine on this topic for Google, I’ve learned that “health” isn’t just another category of information.

It’s different, and for the same reasons online as it is off: It is extremely sensitive, personal, and the stakes in its applications couldn’t be higher.

Health-related information is one of the web’s most popular topics. According to a recently completed Google-commissioned study with the research and consulting firm OTX, 75 percent of patients research their conditions online before discussing them with a physician, and 70 percent said they search the web afterwards to learn more.  Search was the online tool of choice for most users, as 64 percent said that search engines were their first stops online, and 37 percent noted that they conduct health-related searches on a weekly basis.

Search is just one of several tools that people employ to find health information online.  They’re also using social media tools, like YouTube, to view and to share this info as well.  Ho-hum, you might think; a little bit of everything is on YouTube, so in the 24 hours of video that are uploaded every minute to the site, a health-related clip must make it in there occasionally! Indeed, this is true, but like search, the health category isn’t a niche on the vast online universe.  Consider this: the ‘Health’ category on YouTube, according to our survey, was more popular than the ‘Sports,' 'Food,' and even 'Celebrity' categories.  Moreover, nearly one in three YouTube users said they watch health-related video, i.e. educational condition-specific videos, videos featuring experts (e.g. doctors), and videos about specific medications.

The No. 1 thing we hear from patients and caregivers is a desire to hear from people in situations similar to their own. Video can help facilitate that.

Online health information is driving users to take action and improve their conditions.  According to our survey findings, after searching for health info:

  • 55 percent changed behaviors/lifestyle
  • 52 percent made a self-diagnosis
  • 49 percent started an over-the-counter treatment
  • 46 percent told a doctor about a symptom I/someone else had
  • Similarly on the video front, 43 percent of users that viewed health-related content subsequently performed searches about the video’s topic to learn more about it.

Having watched the health space evolve over the last decade, what’s most encouraging to me about increased health-related web-usage is that patients are using the information they gather to make better, more informed health care decisions.


soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Jim


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    October 6, 2010 at 07:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Ken Cleaner

    There is a focus on consumers finding healthcare information online, but what about physicians. There's great statistics and information online that can be efficiently gathered. The old world required physicians to read every journal article to find data or attend conferences, but now the data is available in other areas of the web and compared and contrasted.

    We are creating a website for physician inventors to share information and knowledge and learn from experts, http://healinginnovation.com. I would be interested in your thoughts about physicians being much slower than consumers in realizing the power of the Internet for learning.


    October 9, 2010 at 13:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. David Akermanis

    Anyone have a link to the study?

    November 5, 2010 at 10:27 | Report abuse | Reply

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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.