Search Engine Use for Health-Related Purposes: Behavioral Data on Online Health Information-Seeking in Germany


Internet searches for health-related purposes are common, with search engines like Google being the most popular starting point. However, results on the popularity of health information-seeking behaviors are based on self-report data, often criticized for suffering from incomplete recall, overreporting, and low reliability. Therefore, the current study builds on user-centric tracking of Internet use to reveal how individuals actually behave online. We conducted a secondary analysis of passively recorded Internet use logs to examine the prevalence of health-related search engine use, the types of health information searched for, and the sources visited after the searches. The analysis revealed two key findings. 1) We largely support earlier survey-based findings on the prevalence of online health information seeking with search engines and the relatively minor differences in information-seeking behaviors between socio-demographic groups. 2) We provide a more granular picture of the process of HISB using search engines by identifying different selection patterns depending on the scope of the searches.

Health Communication