Online Health Information

Conceptual Challenges and Theoretical Opportunities

Authored by: S. Shyam Sundar , Ronald E. Rice , Hyang-Sook Kim , Chris N. Sciamanna

The Routledge Handbook of Health Communication

Print publication date:  April  2011
Online publication date:  August  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415883146
eBook ISBN: 9780203846063
Adobe ISBN: 9781136931673


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“Tectonic shift”: That is how the architects of the first Health Information National Trends Survey characterized recent changes in the way we seek and consume health information (Hesse et al., 2005). Thanks to the dramatic diffusion of the Internet and widespread availability of health information and services online, the majority of Americans now conduct increasing amounts of their health communication via online channels. The latest Pew survey found that 61% of adults had used the Internet for health information (Hesse et al., 2005, reported 63%), up from 25% in 2000 (Fox & Jones, 2009). The most frequent searches were for a specific disease or medical problem (49%) and a medical treatment or procedure (41%). Searching for exercise and fitness information increased the most from 2002, up to 38%. Quite noteworthy is that two-thirds talk about the results with someone else, typically a spouse or friends, and that just over half of all online inquiries are done for the benefit of someone else. More and more, users are also reading someone else’s experiences (41% via news group, website or blog), rankings of doctors or health care providers, and rankings of hospitals or other medical facilities (both 24%), receiving health or medical updates (19%), or listening to a health or medical issue podcast (13%).

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