Do patients put too much stock in online research?

U.S. consumers spend roughly 52 hours a year--one hour per week--searching online for health information, while in-person doctor visits occur three times annually, according to a new survey conducted by healthcare marketing firm Makovsky Health and research consultancy Kelton.

More than 1,000 individuals, 18 and older, participated in the survey, which also found WebMD to be, far-and-away, the most accessed online source for healthcare information; 53 percent of respondents said they turned to WebMD during their searches, while 24 percent used a combination of social media sites, such as YouTube, Facebook  and Twitter. Nineteen percent of users accessed health magazine websites, while 16 percent accessed advocacy group websites.

Makovsky Health Executive Vice President and Practice Director Gil Bashe said those results show that patients, in their search efforts, often migrate toward trusted resources.

"Healthcare providers and patient advocates serve an increasingly key role in guiding consumers to credible information and community support that can benefit their care," he said in a statement. "Our job as communicators remains connecting patients in need with the information and resources that advance their well-being."

Health economist Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, in a breakdown of the survey on her Health Populi blog, echoed Bashe's sentiment, saying that the survey confirms that physicians remain "highly trusted channels of information."

"[W]ith patients already in [do-it-yourself] mode--that is, healthcare self-service--doctors can help patients optimize self-care through extending their touch and reach through technology platforms and tools that patients are already using--apart from their physicians," Sarasohn-Kahn said.

The survey also found that despite an uptick in the use of mobile devices to conduct those searches, personal computers remain the preferred method for tool for such tasks. recently examined the most popular social media networks to rank the 50 most socially engaged hospitals. It found that, for all hospitals listed as "Nationally Ranked" by U.S. News and World Report, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., was the most social media friendly.

Meanwhile, in May, a study from the Journal of Communication in Healthcare on social media use among healthcare communications professionals revealed YouTube to be the preferred medium over LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

Research published in JAMA Internal Medicine in July, however, found that health websites often share user search terms for advertising purposes.

To learn more:
- read the survey's announcement
- check out the Health Populi post