July 30, 2008

New Health Data

The Pew Internet Project recently updated our top three Latest Trends charts: Who’s Online, Internet Activities, and Daily Internet Activities.

Two of the new data points relate to health and health care. The October-December 2007 national phone survey included 2,054 adults age 18 and older, including 500 cell phone users. Of those, 75% say they have looked for health or medical information online. 10% of internet users say they searched for health information “yesterday,” which in a tracking survey like this one yields a picture of the “typical day” online. Health has moved up in the “typical day” list (from 7% in 2006 to the current 10% of internet users), but for most people the average day includes lots of emails (60% of internet users), general searches (49%), and news reading (39%) if they are online at all (30% of internet users are offline on a typical day).

With this survey, we returned to the health question wording we had used in 2000 and 2002: “Do you ever use the internet to look for health or medical information” (at that time yielding an estimate of 66% of internet users). In 2003-7, respondents were prompted with questions about specific health topics, such as diet, drugs, or alternative treatments, yielding a consistently higher estimate (80%) for the percentage of internet users who seek health information online in 2003, 2004, and 2006. It is nice to see that when we returned to asking the more basic one-line question, it returns a similar result: 75% of internet users have looked for health or medical information online.

The Oct-Dec 2007 survey is also distinguished by the fact that we included a group of cell phone users in our sample. We believe this is an important part of capturing an accurate picture of the U.S. population since 14.5% of all American adults live in households with only wireless phones (see “Polling in the age of cell phones”).

We will update our 17 health topic trend data in a survey to be fielded this fall and, if you are interested in more frequent updates, I am writing about my observations of the internet’s impact on health care on the e-patients.net blog.