December 14, 2003

Low-income Internet users search for health information online

EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE AT 5PM EASTERN, SUNDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2003 CONTACT: Susannah Fox, Pew Internet & American Life Project
(202) 296-0019 A case study of Californians finds that poorer Internet users report their health searches helped them with medical issues WASHINGTON – Low-income Californians who use the Internet are just as likely as more well-to-do Internet users to go online in search of health care information and two-thirds of those poorer Internet users report they gain important benefits from their online searches, according to a survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project and funded by the California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF). Relatively poor Internet users in California are more wired and have more online experience than their peers in other parts of the nation. This finding suggests that as more low-income Americans go online and become comfortable with using the Internet they will enjoy the same benefits as more upscale Internet users who do searches online for important medical information. The survey found that 45% of Californians living in households with annual incomes of less than $30,000 use the Internet, compared to 36% of those living in low-income households outside California. Sixty-six percent of those Californians report that their online health searches have improved the health services they have received. “We didn’t expect to find low-income residents sharing so fully in the information feast,” said Susannah Fox, director of research at the Pew Internet Project and author of “Wired for Health.” “There are still barriers for many low-income Americans in using the Internet, but this study is a ray of hope for those who would like to see the online health revolution brought to all Americans, regardless of income. Once someone goes online, it is not very long before she finds that the medical information on the Web can be a significant help.” The California HealthCare Foundation engaged the Pew Internet & American Life Project to take a closer look at how Californians use the Internet to research health information, particularly low-income Internet users and, separately, Latino Internet users. Telephone interviews were conducted with 663 Californians and compared to a sample of 1,800 non-Californians (American adults living in the 47 other continental states). The December 2002 survey was conducted only in English and showed at that time that Californians were somewhat more likely to use the Internet than those in other parts of the country. The survey found that 58% of California’s English-speaking Latinos have access to the Internet and are, for the most part, in good health. By comparison, 63% of all Californians go online. It turns out that English-speaking Latinos in California search for many of the same health topics online, but at lower rates than non-Latino whites. Seventy-eight percent of English-speaking Californian Latino Internet users have researched at least one topic online, which is below the average for all Californian Internet users (83%). The survey also found that Californians in all income brackets and of all ethnicities are in line with the rest of the country when it comes to most Internet health search habits. However, online Californians differ from other wired Americans in three areas of online health:

  • 31% of online Californians have searched the Internet for information about health insurance, compared to 24% of the rest of the country’s Internet users.
  • 33% of online Californians have searched for alternative treatments, compared to 27% of the rest of the country’s Internet users.
  • 23% of online Californians have searched for experimental medical treatments, compared to 17% of the rest of the country’s Internet users. “Findings from this research suggest that millions are turning to the Internet to figure out how to take care of themselves and their families,” said Claudia Page, Program Officer at CHCF. “The challenge is to continue to close the gap between those with Internet access and those without.” The Pew Internet & American Life Project is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization fully funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts to examine how Internet use affects families, communities, health care, education, civic/political life, and the work place. The project”s Web site: www.pewinternet.org The California HealthCare Foundation, based in Oakland, is an independent philanthropy committed to improving California’s health care delivery and financing systems. For more information, visit www.chcf.org. The full report, “Wired for Health,” can be found at http://www.pewinternet.org/reports/toc.asp?Report=105