Thirty-nine percent of e-patients use a social networking site like MySpace and Facebook (about the same percentage of all internet users age 18 and older). Of those:
- 22% have followed their friends’ personal health experiences or updates on the site.
- 15% have posted comments, queries, or information about health or medical matters.
- 12% have gotten any health information on the sites.
- 6% have started or joined a health-related group on a social networking site.
Twelve percent of e-patients use Twitter or another service to share updates about themselves or to see updates about others (again, about the same percentage of internet users age 18 and older use status update services). Of e-patient Twitterers, 12% have posted comments, queries, or information about health or medical matters.
Age is a good predictor for social networking use. Two-thirds of internet users between the ages of 18 to 29 use social networking sites, as do 35% of internet users ages 30 to 49, 11% of internet users ages 50 to 64, and 7% of internet users age 65 and older. In addition, 19% of internet users between the ages of 18 to 29 use Twitter or another service to share or see updates, compared with 11% of internet users ages 30 to 49, 4% of internet users age 50 to 64, and 2% of internet users age 65 and older. However, once they begin updating their status or maintaining a social network profile, internet users of all ages are equally likely to have used these sites for health queries, comments, and updates.
There are no significant differences among other demographic groups when it comes to use of social networking sites for health. Women, men, e-patients of various levels of education, whites, African Americans, Latinos – all are equally likely, once they are using social networking services, to use them for health queries and updates.
As more adults join social networking sites, there may be a health benefit simply from the friendship and fellowship found online. Research supports the notion that “a stable and supportive social network improves health outcomes for people with a wide range of conditions from heart failure to post-partum depression.” Twenty-somethings with few health concerns now may find that their interests shift as they age. Older users, gaining confidence, may begin to use the sites for a wider range of pursuits, including social support during a health crisis. There is evidence that online peer support is attractive to older adults and those living with chronic conditions, particularly if it is delivered on technology that is familiar and convenient.