The Social Life of Health Information, 2011
One in five adult internet users have gone online to find others with health concerns similar to their own.
The internet connects people who share interests of all kinds and health is no exception. Eighteen percent of internet users have gone online to find others who might have health concerns similar to theirs.14 Twenty-three percent of internet users living with at least one of five chronic conditions named in the survey have looked online for someone with similar health concerns, compared with 15% of those who report no conditions.
Internet users who have experienced a recent medical emergency, their own or someone else’s, are also more likely than other internet users to go online to try to find someone who shares their situation: 23%, compared with 16%. This fits the pattern observed in Pew Internet’s other research that people going through a medical crisis are voracious information consumers: 85% say they look online for health information, compared with 77% of internet users who have not had that experience in the past year.
Internet users who have experienced a significant change in their physical health, such as weight loss or gain, pregnancy, or quitting smoking are also more likely than other internet users to have looked online for someone like them.
Health professionals, friends, family members, and fellow patients are all part of the mix.
Even with the proliferation of mobile and online opportunities, however, most adults’ search for health information remains anchored in the offline world. Most people turn to a health professional, friend, or family member when they have a health question; the internet plays a growing but still supplemental role – and mobile connectivity has not changed that.
Again, when asked about the last time they had a health issue, 71% of adults in the U.S. say they received information, care, or support from a health professional. Fifty-five percent of adults say they turned to friends and family. Twenty-one percent of adults say they turned to others who have the same health condition.
The majority of these interactions happen offline: just 5% of adults say they received online information, care, or support from a health professional, 13% say they had online contact with friends and family, and 5% say they interacted online with fellow patients.
People turn to different sources for different kinds of information.
All adults were asked which group is more helpful when they need certain types of information or support: health professionals like doctors and nurses or peers like fellow patients, friends, and family.
The pattern of responses was pretty clear: When the item involved technical issues related to a health issue, professionals held sway. When the item involved more personal issues of how to cope with a health issue or get quick relief, then non-professionals were preferred by most patients.
Many people find the internet to be a valuable tool, whether they are using it to search for a quick answer or gain a deeper understanding of a new treatment option or prescription. The internet is also, as this study shows, a way to tap into our instincts to gather together, help other people, and be helped ourselves.
- “Peer-to-peer Healthcare” (Pew Internet: February 28, 2011). Available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/P2PHealthcare.aspx ↩