Susannah Fox at Pew Internet & American Life compares two Pew reports that seem to say different things about how consumers seek health information, in part because they asked the question in different ways.
In E-Health Reality Check, she notes that the recent “Information Searches that Solve Problems” study showed that about 80% of respondents who had recently needed health information turned to a health professional, half turned to friends and family and 46% turned to the Internet.
The earlier “E-patients with a chronic disease or disability” report on the National Cancer Institute’s HINTS study stated that, while nearly half of those queried said they would turn first to a health professional, 46% who had recently looked for cancer information had looked online, compared with 11% who had actually consulted a health professional.
She suggests that all of these things may be true – that if a respondent had a serious health problem they would consult a physician, but if they were just exploring a possible health problem they might look online. She writes,
I don’t think many people dispute the e-patient trend, but it is important to remember that the internet is more often a supplement to other sources, not a replacement.