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Latest Pew Report on Health Information and the Internet

By June 2, 2011Commentary

The Pew Research Center, in conjunction with the California Health Care Foundation, issued its latest survey related to American’s access to, use of and sharing of health information, particularly in regard to the internet and social media.   (Pew Report) The survey was conducted last year and contacted 3000 adults.  About 74% of adults use the internet.  The primary source of information when people have a health issue is the physician or another health professional, with 70% saying that was the source, followed by 54% who relied on friends and family and 20% who said they contacted others with the same condition.  Although this personal interaction is important, a large percent (59%) of adults have used the internet to find information about disease or treatment.

Other statistics about internet use include 25% of adults reading someone else’s commentary or reporting about health issues online; 19% watching an online health-related video; 18% looking online for reviews of specific drugs or treatments; 13% seeking others who may have the same health issues or conditions; 12% using internet sites which have online rankings or review of physicians and 11% consulting rankings of hospitals or other providers.  The internet users are more than passive consumers of information, as 20% of adults have tracked weight, diet, exercise or other health metrics online; 4% have posted comments, questions or information online; 3% have posted a review of a doctor and 2% have done so in regard to a hospital.  Some of these numbers may seem small, but they translate to a large absolute number of people.  You would suspect that younger people are more active users, so these numbers will likely expand over time.

Social media sites are also growing in popularity, with 46% of adults utilizing a site at some time.   Of these, 11% of adults have followed a friend’s personal health experience on a social media site; 8% have used social networking to remember or memorialize a person suffering from a certain health condition; 7% have gotten health information from one of these sites; 6% have raised money or drawn attention to a health issue; 5% have posted comments and 4% have started or joined a health-related group.  As might be expected, people with chronic conditions are heavier internet and social media users.  Informal caregivers are much more likely to use social media than are others.  Nine percent of cell phone users say they have a medically-related app on their phone.

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