January 20, 2010

Federal Agencies: First Responders to Health Questions

Susannah Fox will provide data on the current internet population, with a particular focus on health communication, wireless adoption, social media, and implications for public health planning.

Ten years ago, when the Pew Internet Project began our work, the internet was a dial-up, stationary, information vending machine. Only half of American adults knew how to use it and they were mostly white, mostly college-educated, and mostly men.

Back then, 35% of African American adults went online, compared with 48% of whites. Every time we did a survey showing an increase in the percentage of adults online, African Americans always lagged behind whites. If 62% of whites were online, then 51% of African Americans were online. If 76% of whites were online, 70% of African Americans were online. This was the “digital divide” that never seemed to close. Until now.

For many people, particularly African Americans, a mobile device is the internet.

When we include wireless connections in our definition of the internet population, that digital divide disappears. (See page 3 of the handout: Wireless internet users.)

If you’re trying to reach young people: 80% of adults between the ages of 18-29 go online via a mobile device.

If you’re trying to reach Latinos: 62% of Latino adults, both English- and Spanish-dominant, go online wirelessly.

In addition to our data, please be sure to read the Kaiser Family Foundation‘s new report, Generation M2, released this morning.

Another excellent source of data and insights: Forrester Research. Their social engagement ladder shows how many people are spectators – they listen and read, but don’t yet contribute – and how many people are creators and conversationalists.

Four in 10 adults are what the Pew Internet Projects calls “motivated by mobility.” Mobile access reinforces collaborative behavior and seems to move people up the rungs of that engagement ladder.

One of the interesting characteristics of the mobile group is that they are more likely than other internet users to look up health information online. And they share what they find with each other.

Research shows that people are using technology to connect to each other, influence each other, and spread messages and behaviors like a virus through their social networks. E-patients – internet users who go online for health information – can be powerful agents in your battle against misinformation.

Looking at Pew Internet’s national data, 41% of e-patients have read someone else’s commentary or experience about health or medical issues on an online news group, website, or blog. They are the Spectators on the engagement ladder, reading what the Creators and Conversationalists write. What are you doing to deputize your readers, fans, and followers? How are you helping them to spread your message?

The remainder of the presentation is centered on a forthcoming Pew Internet Project/California HealthCare Foundation report on people living with chronic diseases, not yet released to the public.