Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Google ranks second to doctors for health info influence

A national survey finds Americans rely highly on Google searches as a source of health care information. The survey, conducted in April 2010 by Capstrat and Public Policy Polling, finds 22 percent of respondents consider Google searches “influential” in seeking health information. The search engine ranked second only to doctors (44 percent) in reported influence and was named more than twice as often as nurses, pharmacists, advocacy groups and friends or family members.

After asking where people turn to for health information, the poll asked which sources they trust. Health advocacy groups emerged as a particularly trusted source of online health information: 71 percent judged Web content of such groups “somewhat reliable” or “extremely reliable,”considerably higher than the 59 percent who felt that way about organic Google searches.

Online communities aren’t yet a major influencer in health care. Only 12 percent of respondents used online forums in their last search for health information, and only 37 percent considered forums “somewhat reliable” or “extremely reliable.” Of those who did look to online communities, the number one reason was their around-the-clock availability.

The survey revealed significant differences in the way various segments of society use online communities. African Americans and Gen-Xers are significantly more likely to consider them reliable sources of information. Younger respondents were also much less likely to see pharmacists as reliable sources of information, perhaps reflecting the more impersonal relationship they have with chain pharmacists compared to their parents’ long-standing reliance on the mom-and-pop operations that used to dominate the landscape.

“We found it interesting that popularity and trust don’t always go hand-in-hand,” said Karen Albritton, Capstrat president. “People are quick to search the Web for health information, just as they use it for most other questions today. But when it comes time to make a decision, their trust resides where it always has – in people. This insight can be instructive to organizations working to combine health expertise with new strategies for communication.”

Other notable findings:
  • 32 percent of African Americans cited Google as the most influence source for health decisions, compared to only 15 percent of Hispanics who found Google influential
  • 63 percent of women considered Google reliable on health, compared to 53 percent of men
  • 53 percent of respondents ages 30 to 45 found online forums to be reliable, compared to only 37 percent of respondents ages 46 to 65
  • 65 percent found a phone conversation with a nurse to be somewhat or extremely reliable
Download Capstrat's white paper on these results.

To view the whitepaper, visit
To view complete survey results, visit

About Public Policy Polling

Public Policy Polling has conducted regional and national surveys since 1991. The firm employs Interactive Voice Response or IVR methodology. Just as polling evolved from mail-in surveys and door-to-door interviewers to live telephone interviewers, the polling industry is evolving into automated telephone surveys (IVR) and internet polling. An analysis by the Wall Street Journal of swing state polls in the 2008 presidential campaign concluded that Public Policy Polling was among the two most accurate survey firms.

About Capstrat

Capstrat is a communications agency based in Raleigh, N.C. The firm specializes in communications for complex issues that health care, technology, energy/infrastructure and financial organizations face at critical moments. Capstrat provides counsel on public relations, marketing communications, interactive communications and public affairs. Visit Capstrat at
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