The Internet rivals books, magazines and newspapers is the #1 source for Americans seeking health information. Friends and family come a very, very close second.

TV and radio rank lower, with only 15% of people relying on these media for personal health information.

The tracking report from the Center for Studying Health System Change (CSHSC), Striking Jump in Consumers Seeking Health Care Information, finds that 56% of Americans looked for health information in 2007.

Use of the Internet doubled, from 16% in 2001 to 32% in 2007.

While all Americans increased their health information seeking behavior, it’s highly correlated to educational attainment. Thus,
65% of those with a college education sought out health information in 2007; 42% of those without a high school diploma did a health information search.

While older people seek information online less than younger people, the growth of seniors searching for health information online has grown much faster than other age groups. CSHSC observes that s
eniors “are still only half as likely as consumers aged 18 to 49 to turn to the Internet for information about a personal health concern (18% vs. 36%).”

Chronic illness drives people to seek health information, which is a finding that Susannah Fox of the Pew Internet & American life project has also discussed. When chronically ill people seek health information, about one-half change their health behaviors based on that information.

The important bottom-line of this report: “O
nce consumers are engaged enough to actively seek health information, even those with less education are likely to find useful information sources.”

Health Populi’s Hot Points:
If you build it, some do come to health information search. For those who are less likely to initially seek out health information — those with lower educational attainment and income, and seniors — CSHSC found that once they seek health information, they engage with it.

Still, how do we get people to seek out information for personal health, and for the health of those for whom they care? It’s an important challenge because, as the Center points out, “
These consumers may find themselves increasingly left behind as many new, valuable sources of health information—such as hospital and physician quality reports—are released solely through online channels.”

More creative outlets for this information need to be explored and exploited, both off- and online. I know of HIV/AIDS campaigns that have gone into clubs and onto bus stop kiosks. Mammogram reminder campaigns work through churches. The health behavior and public health communities have a lot of experience to mine in thinking creatively like smart consumer guerilla marketers.

And don’t forget the ubiquitous mobile phone; one of the most downloaded ringtones right now in India is promoting the use of condoms for safe sex. You can listen to it here. The project was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.