A study released this week by the Pew Internet Project and California HealthCare Foundation found that many Internet users conduct research about medical conditions and illnesses to address their concerns.

The study found that 80% of Internet users look online for health information, making it the third most popular online pursuit among all those tracked by the Pew Internet Project, following email and using a search engine.

Medicine is one of the most highly-searched topics on the internet and this research confirms  that.

This finding is not surprising as the health care industry continues to add more health information online for the Internet surfers.

Diabetes, heart disease, allergies, shingles and skin disorders are among the most highly searched medical topics in 2010.  The most frequent online searches for drugs and solutions  include pain relievers, antibiotics, high blood pressure medication and antidepressants.

The group most frequently conducting health information searches are women, younger adults, Caucasians, and caregivers. Groups with a lower Internet search average are African-Americans, Latinos and older adults. However, the study does say that the increase in Internet capable mobile phones has lead to more usage among these groups.

A national telephone survey found that new topics are continually added to health information searches, such as when food safety or drug recalls are in the news. But the same survey found a health information divide along education, age, and income lines, with some of the most vulnerable populations not as likely to see the most up-to-date information on drug recalls, food safety, and medical treatments.

According to the research, the most likely groups to look online for health information include: caregivers, women, whites, younger adults, and adults with at least some college education. The groups least likely to look online for health information include: African Americans, Latinos, people living with disability, older adults, and adults with a high school education or less.

But the rise of wireless Internet access through mobile devices could shift the patterns of who is looking for health information online. Young people, Latinos, and African Americans are increasingly likely to use mobile devices to gather information, including health advice.

The percentage of Internet users who look online for information about:

  • A specific disease or medical problem: 66%. The top five conditions searched for on WebMD, for example, are shingles, gallbladder, gout, hemorrhoids, and lupus.
  • A certain medical treatment or procedure: 56%. For example, pain relievers, anti-depressants, high blood pressure medication, corticosteroids, and hysterectomy.
  • Doctors or other health professionals: 44%.
  • Hospitals or other medical facilities: 36%.
  • Health insurance, including private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid: 33%.
  • Food safety or recalls: 29%.
  • Drug safety or recalls: 24%.
  • Environmental health hazards: 22%.
  • Pregnancy and childbirth: 19%.
  • Memory loss, dementia, or Alzheimer’s: 17%.
  • Medical test results: 16%.
  • How to manage chronic pain: 14%.
  • Long term care for an elderly or disabled person: 12%.
  • End-of-life decisions: 7%.

The report is available on the Pew Internet site through the External Links below.