Family doctors vs. YouTube: Where do Americans learn about drugs and medical treatments?
July 28th, 2023, Clifton Mark

Family doctors vs. YouTube: Where do Americans learn about drugs and medical treatments?

Traditionally, when people wanted to learn about a drug or medical treatment, they’d ask a doctor. In 2023, how is the monopoly of medical expertise holding up? What role are new sources of information such as social media playing in teaching Americans about their medical options?

According to a recent YouGov survey, GPs are still an essential source of information. Two-thirds (66%) of Americans say they will consult their GP “very often” of “somewhat often” when they want to learn about drugs and medical treatments. In this context, doctors are second only to Google. Three quarters (74%) say they use web search often, making it more than twice as popular as consulting physical media such as books and journals (36%).

Web search is the most popular source for all age cohorts, but there are significant differences in how older and younger consumers get their information. The youngest cohort - 18-34-year-olds - seem more interested in doing their own research rather than in consulting experts in-person. They use all methods except consulting a doctor more than older consumers, especially social media. Among 18-34-year-olds, 52% use social media to learn about medical treatment compared to 34% of 35-54-year-olds and only 16% of consumers over 55. Younger consumers are also the most likely (37%) to consult advertisements as a source of information.

When it comes to gender, women are more likely to use web search (78% vs 70%) and social media (35% vs 29%) often.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, parents of young children are particularly interested in learning about medical treatments. As a group, they’re significantly more likely to be frequent users of all information sources than non-parents and parents of adult children. By contrast, parents of children older than 18 are the least likely of those three groups to consult all information sources, except doctors.

For example, nearly half (46%) of parents of children under 18 consult social media often to learn about medical treatments. This compares to a quarter (26%) of non-parents and 13% of parents of adult children.

Among Americans who do use social media to research treatments, YouTube (43% use it often) is the most popular platform followed by Facebook (34%) and Instagram (22%).

Platform choice also varies by age. Younger consumers are much more likely to use Instagram, TikTok and Twitter than their elders. Facebook is slightly more popular with 35-54-year-olds.

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YouGov Surveys: Serviced provide quick survey results from nationally representative or targeted audiences in multiple markets. This study was conducted online on July 7-10, 2023, with a nationally representative sample of 1224 adults in the US (aged 18+ years), using a questionnaire designed by YouGov. Data figures have been weighted to be nationally representative. Learn more about YouGov Surveys: Serviced.