Online health information, including both medical resources and patient community connections, continues to play an important role in patient education and self-care, according to a national consumer survey conducted by Makovsky Health and Kelton.

The survey shows the average US consumer spends nearly 52 hours looking for health information on the internet annually, and visits the doctor three times. Further, physicians remain a key influencer sparking online health research; Americans are most likely to visit a pharma-sponsored website after receiving a diagnosis from their physician (51 percent).

These findings underscore the importance of accuracy and accessibility of online health information as a springboard for patient-physician dialogue and peer support.

The survey also revealed that WebMD is the most frequented online source for healthcare information (53 percent); that almost a fourth of consumers (24 percent) use at least one or a combination of social media channels—including YouTube video channels, Facebook sites, blogs, and Twitter feeds with links to other resources—to seek healthcare information; and that the majority of Americans (83 percent) are still using a personal computer for health searches, not a tablet or smartphone

“The survey results demonstrate that even as consumers research health-related information online, they seek trusted resources for that information: their physician, or a fellow patient,” says Gil Bashe, executive vice president and practice director, Makovsky Health. “Healthcare providers and patient advocates serve an increasingly key role in guiding consumers to credible information and community support that can benefit their care. Our job as communicators remains connecting patients in need with the information and resources that advance their well-being.”

Despite the Affordable Care Act and healthcare reform impacting patient care in coming months, consumers are not seeking information about ACA online. Survey data show 33 percent of consumers have spent less than an hour researching ACA information in the past year, with 32 percent of respondents stating they have never researched healthcare reform.

“Though it may seem counterintuitive, the current lack of Affordable Care Act research is logical given human behavior; just look at how many people file their taxes a week before the deadline,” said Tom Bernthal, CEO of Kelton. “These information-seeking patterns could suggest an increased pressure for healthcare companies to get it right during this critical countdown to the launch of the health insurance marketplace. The test of success for these companies will be the ability to simplify complex information for the millions of insurance-naïve, confused and anxious consumers entering the changing system.”

Among the key findings:
• When it comes to health searches online, the vast majority of Americans are still most likely to use a personal computer (83 percent) versus a tablet or smartphone (11 percent and 6 percent, respectively). Data show tablets are gaining traction, with a 7 percent increase from 2012, while smartphone usage stayed stagnant.
• WebMD remains the most accessed online resource for health information (53 percent), followed by Wikipedia (22 percent), health magazine websites (19 percent) and advocacy group websites (16 percent).
• Social media channels continued to rank relatively low, with YouTube being used by 12 percent of people searching for healthcare information online and Facebook and blogs both visited by 10 percent of Americans.
• The majority of Americans would visit pharma-sponsored websites after receiving a diagnosis (51 percent). In contrast, 23 percent would access this resource before filling a prescription and 16 percent after first experiencing symptoms. Year-over-year survey results showed a 10 percent decrease in the likelihood that Americans would visit a pharma-sponsored website after experiencing symptoms (from 26 percent in 2012 to 16 percent in 2013).