Health Consumers Depend on Internet

SAN FRANCISCO When people want health information they go to the Internet more often than to the family doctor, according to an August study.

The report by Burst Media examines how American adults conduct health and medical research.

The Web leads all other sources by a large margin among consumers who have online access. In fact, more than a third of consumers search online for health information at least once a week, including before and after any doctor visits, according to the survey.

More than three-quarter of respondents used the Web as their primary information source for health information, compared to 23 percent who turned to health providers first, and 13 percent who went to family and friends. In general, the younger the group, the more it relied on Web information. (Among those 65 and older, a third said the Internet is their primary place for getting information about health conditions and remedies.)

What types of health and medical sites are most popular? The study indicates that commercial healthcare venues and condition-specific sites and forums are the preferred sources online. Pharmaceutical company sites are the least favored, with 16.5 percent of the respondents going to those sites for information. Not surprisingly, the most common online health questions are about symptoms and treatments.

For drug manufacturers to consumer-packaged goods firms, the Internet offers an opportunity to provide customers with large amounts of product and lifestyle information about their brands and a vehicle for two-way communication, concludes the study.

Burst, a provider of ad services to independent Web publishers, compiled its
findings from a survey of more than 3,700 Internet users in August.