Winter surge in patients going online for trusted health information

There has been a record surge in people going online for trusted health information and advice over the winter period, according to new figures from NHS Choices and NHS Direct.

Daily visits to the NHS Choices website from October to the end of December were up 56 per cent compared to the same time last year, despite lower levels of flu so far this year. This equates to 133,000 more visits a day this year (368,000), in contrast with the same period in 2010, in which there were 235,000 visits a day.

Over the Christmas period, concerns about Norovirus drove up visits to pages on the winter vomiting bug by 162 per cent compared to the same period last year. There was a 117 per cent increase in traffic to these pages between 19 to 27 December 2011 compared to the previous week. Overall, between October to the end of December, there were 116,085 visits to the Norovirus pages this year compared to 70,347 visits over the same period in 2010.

Visits to flu and cold content on the site are down, with more people looking for information about the flu jab. There has been a 91 per cent rise in hits on the “who should have it” page and a 73 per cent increase in visits to the “about the vaccine” page.

Winter visits to the Choices site,, are now averaging just under 11 million a month compared to 6.8 million at the same time last year.  Annually, there has been a 35 per cent increase in visits to the site.

NHS Direct’s web services, which are available on NHS Choices, are now more popular with patients than its telephone service, with around 26,000 people using its health and symptom checkers every day online or via its mobile phone application, compared with 12,000 calling daily for advice. The most popular searches during December on NHS Direct’s health and symptom checkers were colds and flu, abdominal pain, rashes and skin problems, diarrhoea and vomiting and female sexual health.

There has also been a growing interest in people seeking health advice using mobile phone applications. This is demonstrated by 43 per cent and 13 per cent increases respectively, over the past year, in the number of times NHS Choices’ Alcohol Tracker and Quit Smoking mobile phone iPhone applications have been downloaded. NHS Direct’s app has been downloaded one million times in the six months since its launch in May 2011.

NHS Medical Director, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh said:

“NHS Choices is the world’s leading health website used by around 11 million patients every month.  NHS Choices’ high quality, clinically assured information is even more important over the winter months.  Whether finding information on self care for minor ailments or the location of the nearest pharmacy, NHS Choices can help people look after themselves and reduce pressure on the NHS, enabling resources to be concentrated where they’re most needed.”

Health Minister Simon Burns said:

“The Internet is an increasingly popular source of health advice for millions of people, especially over the busy winter period. I am pleased that over 50 per cent more patients than this time last year are getting accurate, reliable online advice about how to best manage their symptoms to get them on the road to recovery as quickly as possible. Easy and convenient online access to information, as well as over the phone, is not only hugely reassuring for patients, but also supports the NHS in delivering the best possible care during busier periods.”

Notes to Editors

1. More information on winter health can be found on the NHS Choices website.

2. The figures quoted for winter visits to the NHS Choices website in 2011 cover 1 October to 27/28 December.

3. NHS Choices ( is a comprehensive online information service that helps people find reliable information about medical treatments, local services, conditions and healthy living. It also provides access to online services such as appointment booking and the ability for patients to comment on their experience.  It is the most popular health website in the UK, averaging 11 million visits a month.

4. NHS Direct provides remotely-delivered care over the phone, handling 4.5 million calls a year, on the web and through a mobile phone application. Its online health and symptom checkers are used 26,000 times a day.

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