Matthew Holt

Who’d be a pollster, eh

HSC says that the number of Americans going online for healthcare goes way up:

In 2007, 56 percent of American adults—more than 122 million people—sought information about a personal health concern from a source other than their doctor, up from 38 percent, or 72 million people, in 2001, according to a national study released today by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC).

Harris Interactive says it’s gone down ;

Ten years ago, in 1998, the Harris Poll began measuring the number of people going online for health care information. At that time we reported that 54 million people had done so at least once. Since then the number of those people, whom we labeled “cyberchondriacs,” have increased almost every year, reaching 110 million in 2002, and 160 million in 2007.

This year, the Harris Poll finds only 150 million who claim to have gone online to obtain health care information. Of course, 150 million is still a huge number and includes 66 percent of all adults and 81 percent of those who are online.

Extra points if you can spot the flaw in my reasoning. (Yes, it’s easy but I’ve been up late watching the Olympics….even though I said I wouldn’t)

4 replies »

  1. What I found interesting from the Harris Poll (via eMarketer) was that the % of internet users looking for health information has only really varied 9% since 2001 from 75% in 2001 to 84% in 2007 (
    To me, it means that people are using the web to search for health information as part of their routine. No matter how many people search for health information, 81% of online users are still searching for health information this year.
    Also was surprised that WebMD still outpaces everyone by market share per visits: 10.8% vs. closest competitor Everyday Health at 5.38%. I thought other companies were closer. Maybe in page views, and length of engagement? (
    Just my thoughts.

  2. I’ll take the bait and be a pollster.
    Neal’s critique is a fair one, but I’d like to hear if he (or anyone) needs a poll for any aspect of the e-health world (since I’m planning to field another one this fall and am collecting ideas). Post a comment here or email me directly: sfox AT pewinternet DOT org
    John points out a key difference between the two samples: HSC was in the field in 2007 while Harris was in the field in 2008.
    But there are other major differences (major to polling geeks anyway). Harris asks, “How often do you look for information online about health topics – often, sometimes, hardly ever or never?” while HSC asks, “During the past 12 months, did you look for or get information about a personal health concern?” Also, the Harris survey had an N of 1,010 adults whereas HSC’s 2007 Health Tracking Household Survey was comprised of a whopping 18,000 adults.
    And just to stick up for my employers:
    Pew Hispanic Center’s report on Latinos has great data on that group and my own Pew Internet Project estimate was recently released.

  3. The flaw is that the HSC study does not look at this year (2008) whereas the Harris Interactive study looks at this current year. So potentially, both could see that the numbers have decreased.

  4. The flaw in any such research is embodied in something that a professor of behavioral studies told me many moons ago when I was in college: The worst way to find out what people do is to ask them. They’ll lie to you every time.
    Just look at how viewership of PBS went down when the rating agencies employed the set-top boxes instead of relying on diaries.
    The point is, we all know from actual traffic that millions of adults use the Web for health purposes. I don’t need a poll to understand the value and importance of making healthcare accessible online.