While working on a white paper for a client last year, I came across some important statistics on healthcare “shopping” that really captured my attention.

According to a study released by the PewResearchCenter in February, 2011, 80% of all Internet users go online to research healthcare information. That’s a lot more than I suspected.

For those tracked by the Pew Internet Project, learning about healthcare is the third most popular online activity behind e-mail and search engine use.

When you consider that about one-quarter of adults do not use the Internet, the percentage of those seeking healthcare information online is 59% of the total U.S. population.1 That’s nearly six of every 10 adults.

When you break down the numbers further, a growing body of research indicates that consumers are searching for information online about specific physicians and hospitals. This is a break from only a few years ago when consumers used the Internet primarily to research specific diseases or medical treatments.

For example, I reviewed a 2003 report on the top online healthcare searches of that time, and 63% were performed to learn about a disease or medical problem. Only 21% were done to learn about a hospital or physician.2

Today, approximately 47% of searches are performed to learn about doctors or health professionals, and 38% are done to research hospitals and other medical facilities.

This demonstrates that the percentage of people going online to search specifically for hospitals or physicians has increased significantly since 2003.

Engage potential end users of your products and services online

Common sense says that it’s smart to assume that the percentage of consumers searching for information about doctors, hospitals, services and medical devices will continue to rise as Internet technologies and mobile platforms become more powerful.

Given this information, it’s easy to conclude that medical marketers can longer afford to dedicate only a small percentage of their marketing budgets to online initiatives. It’s now essential to reach out and engage consumers where they are gathering and doing healthcare research in increasing numbers—online.

1Pew Internet and American Life Project, February 2011

2Pew Internet and American Life Project, July 2004