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The answer, for an ever-growing portion of the population, is the World Wide Web. Researchers for the Pew Internet and American Life Project, comparing data from 2002 to that of a newer (2004) survey, found that an increasing number of patients turn to the Web for information about diet, nutrition, physicians, and hospitals. In 2004, 51% of respondents visited the Web for information on a treatment or procedure; 40%, to research a prescription or over-the-counter medication; and 23%, to look into an experimental treatment.
Which Web sites were visited most often? Those affiliated with WebMD (11.18 million in April of this year, for example) and the National Institutes of Health (8.1 million in the same month), according to a separate survey that tracks media usage. The upshot of this expanded search for information should be better informed patients; for college-educated families, that is the case. Regrettably, access to the information available on the Web isn't evenly distributed: Whereas 42% of college-educated respondents used the Internet to find health information, only 28% of non-college-educated users did. Ease of access is a factor, too: The survey found that, although 41% of those with an at-home broadband connection researched health information online, only 19% of those with a dial-up connection did the same.