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Chronic Disease Patients’ Use of the Internet

By May 27, 2010Commentary

We all know by now that patients with chronic diseases account for much of total health spending.  A variety of methods have been proposed to improve these patients’ care, with one objective being the reduction of spending on them.  Use of internet-based resources and communication capabilities has been put forward as one method to aid in this objective.  In a survey sponsored by Pew Research and the California HealthCare Foundation, information was elicited regarding the use of the internet by these chronic disease patients.   (Pew Report)

One finding was that chronic disease sufferers go online or have internet access less often that do adults without a chronic disease; 82% of the healthier adults have internet access versus 62% of chronic disease patients.  People with more than one chronic disease go online even less frequently at 52%.  This is consistent with the demographics of chronic disease, which occurs more often in the old, poor and less educated.  Only 51% of chronic disease sufferers have actually gone online to get information about health issues, compared to 66% of adults with no chronic conditions.  Lack of internet access, not desire, is the primary reason for this gap.  These chronic disease suffers are more likely to use traditional sources of information–providers, family, friends, insurers–than are the healthy adults, who are more likely to go online than use these traditional sources.

Interestingly, however, chronic disease patients who do have internet access are more likely to engage in blogging and online discussions about their health issues., although overall participation in these activities is low.  And these patients said what they found online made more of an impact on their health and care than did the healthy adults.  According to the survey, a large minority of Americans, 36%, say they have at least one of the major chronic conditions and another 29% say that while they don’t, someone close to them does and those persons are often looking for information for that patient.  The national goal of ensuring universal internet access could make a significant difference for chronic disease patients.

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