A joint study by the Pew Internet Project and California HealthCare Foundation reveals that 80 per cent of US Internet users look online for health information. This make it the third most popular online pursuit tracked by the project, behind email and using a search engine. Guy Daniels reports.
Whilst on the face of it this is great news for the proponents of eHealth, the study found evidence of a digital divide between demographic groups. Not only do some groups have better access to the Internet (and make more use of it) than others, but these same groups are generally more likely to seek health information once online.
No surprises in which groups are the most active: caregivers, women, whites, younger adults, and adults with some degree of college education. The groups least likely to look online for health information include: African Americans, Latinos, the disabled, older adults, and adults with only a high school education or less. Susannah Fox, associate director of the Pew Internet Project and author of the study, explains:
"The Internet has become a go-to resource for most Americans, but some groups are still on the other side of the health information divide. Many people, particularly the most vulnerable populations, are not likely to see the most up-to-date information on drug recalls, food safety, and medical treatments."
She suggests that the recent increase in interest in mHealth, using mobiles to access and be sent health information, and the rise in health related mobile apps, could help to address the balance.
The report found evidence that young people, Latinos, and African Americans are increasingly likely to use mobile devices to gather information, including health advice.
As for what information is being access online at the moment (the study was conducted in September last year), 66 per cent of Internet users look up a specific disease or medical problem, with the top five conditions searched for on the WebMD site being shingles, gallbladder, gout, hemorrhoids, and lupus.
Close behind information on specific problems comes interest in specific treatments or procedures, accounting for 56 per cent of users. The top five treatments searched for on WebMD are pain relievers, anti-depressants, high blood pressure medication, corticosteroids, and hysterectomy.
Interestingly, no mention of diabetes, as this is the number one health area being identified by developers of mobile health applications and is also seen by many mobile operators as the target area with which to launch mHealth services. You can see more on this subject by watching TelecomTV’s mHealth panel from last month’s Mobile World Congress, or the accompanying feature.
Download report here
please sign in to rate this article