October 8, 2007

Just half of adults with chronic conditions use the internet

WASHINGTON, DC, October 8 – About a fifth of American adults say that a disability, handicap, or chronic disease keeps them from participating fully in work, school, housework, or other activities. Half (51%) of those living with a disability or chronic disease go online, compared with 74% of those who report no chronic conditions. Fully 86% of internet users living with disability or chronic illness have looked online for information about at least one of 17 health topics, compared with 79% of internet users with no chronic conditions. E-patients with chronic conditions are more likely than other e-patients to report that their online searches affected treatment decisions, their interactions with their doctors, their ability to cope with their condition, and their dieting and fitness regimen.

These are among the findings of the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s latest report on the internet’s impact on health and health care, “E-patients With a Disability or Chronic Disease.” The report, written by Associate Director Susannah Fox, is based on an August 2006 telephone survey of 2,928 adults, of whom 17% identify as living with a disability or chronic disease (n=538). The report also draws from essays collected in a survey of members of an online support group, the Association of Cancer Online Resources (ACOR.org).

These findings build on what was reported in “Online Health Search 2006,” but there are important differences between the general population and those living with chronic conditions:

  • E-patients with chronic conditions are less likely than others to start their information queries at search engines.
  • E-patients with chronic conditions are more likely than other health seekers to go online for information about their own conditions.
  • E-patients with chronic conditions have mostly positive things to say about their online health searches, but they are more likely than others to report frustration as well.

    The impact of the most recent search for health information was most deeply felt by internet users who had received a serious diagnosis or experienced a health crisis in the past year, either their own or that of someone close to them. One-quarter of adults (27%) say they or someone close to them has been diagnosed in the last 12 months with a chronic medical condition, such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure. One-third (34%) of American adults say they or someone close to them faced a serious medical emergency or crisis in the past 12 months. Fifty-nine percent of these e-patients say the information found in their most recent online search led them to ask a doctor new questions or to get a second opinion from another doctor, compared with 48% of e-patients who had not experienced a health challenge in the past year. Forty-six percent of recently challenged or diagnosed e-patients say the information changed the way they cope with a chronic condition or manage pain, compared with 31% of other e-patients.

    “Internet health resources serve as an in-depth, just-in-time resource for millions of Americans,” said Fox. “Unfortunately, people facing a serious diagnosis are the most likely group to be offline in an online world.”

    About the Pew Internet & American Life Project: The Pew Internet Project produces reports that explore the social impact of the internet. Support for the non-profit Pew Internet Project is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The Project is an initiative of the Pew Research Center. The Project’s website: http://www.pewinternet.org