March 24, 2010

Chronic Disease and the Internet

 Adults living with chronic disease are disproportionately offline in an online world;
The internet access gap creates an online health information gap.

However, for those who do go online, the internet holds great promise

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 24, 2010 – Only 62% of adults living with chronic disease go online, compared with 81% of adults who report no chronic diseases.

“We can now add chronic disease to the list of attributes which have an independent, negative effect on someone’s likelihood to have internet access, along with age, education, and income level,” says Kristen Purcell, an associate director of the Pew Internet Project and a co-author of the report.

The internet access gap creates an online health information gap. More than any other group, people living with chronic disease remain strongly connected to offline sources of medical assistance and advice such as health professionals, friends, family, and books. However, once they have internet access, people living with chronic disease report significant benefits from the health resources found online.

The report, “Chronic Disease and the Internet,” is based on a national telephone survey which included 2,253 adults, 36% of whom are living with chronic disease (heart conditions, lung conditions, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer). Illustrative quotes from patients were gathered through online surveys conducted by PatientsLikeMe.com and HealthCentral.com.

Looking at the population as a whole, 51% of American adults living with chronic disease have looked online for any of the health topics included in the survey, such as information about a specific disease, a certain medical procedure, or health insurance. By comparison, 66% of adults who report no chronic conditions use the internet to gather health information.

Lack of internet access, not lack of interest in the topic, is the primary reason for the gaps. In fact, when demographic factors are controlled, internet users living with chronic disease are slightly more likely than other internet users to access health information online.

Information about prescription or over-the-counter drugs is the topic that draws the most significant interest among internet users living with chronic disease, compared with other internet users.

“The deck is stacked against people living with chronic disease. They are disproportionately offline. They often have complicated health issues, not easily solved by the addition of even the best, most reliable, medical advice,” says Susannah Fox, an associate director of the Pew Internet Project and a co-author of the report. “But those who are online have a trump card. They have each other. Those who have access use the internet like a secret weapon, unearthing and sharing nuggets of information found online.”


Pew Internet logo

About the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project is one of seven projects that make up the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The Project produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life. The Project aims to be an authoritative source on the evolution of the internet through surveys that examine how Americans use the internet and how their activities affect their lives.

Website: http://www.pewinternet.org/

California Health Care Foundation

About the California HealthCare Foundation

The California HealthCare Foundation is an independent philanthropy committed to improving the way health care is delivered and financed in California. Website: http://www.chcf.org/