Health Fact Sheet

Highlights of the Pew Internet Project’s research related to health and health care.

(Note: This page will be updated whenever new data is available.)

Internet access:

87% of U.S. adults use the internet (January 2014 survey). For more, see: Internet User Demographics

90% of U.S. adults own a cell phone; 58% of U.S. adults own a smartphone (January 2014 survey). For more, see: Mobile Technology Fact Sheet

Online health information:

72% of internet users say they looked online for health information within the past year.

77% of online health seekers say they began their last session at a search engine such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo. Another 13% say they began at a site that specializes in health information, like WebMD. Just 2% say they started their research at a more general site like Wikipedia and an additional 1% say they started at a social network site like Facebook.

The most commonly-researched topics are specific diseases or conditions; treatments or procedures; and doctors or other health professionals.

Half of online health information research is on behalf of someone else – information access by proxy.

26% of online health seekers say they have been asked to pay for access to something they wanted to see online (just 2% say they did so).

Clinicians remain a central resource:

When asked to think about the last time they had a serious health issue and to whom they turned for help, either online or offline:

  • 70% of U.S. adults got information, care, or support from a doctor or other health care professional.
  • 60% of adults got information or support from friends and family.
  • 24% of adults got information or support from others who have the same health condition.

The vast majority of this care and conversation took place offline, but a small group of people did communicate with each of these sources online. For more, see: Health Online 2013.

Mobile health:

31% of cell phone owners, and 52% of smartphone owners, have used their phone to look up health or medical information.

  • This finding is of particular interest to those interested in trends related to young people, Latinos, and African Americans, since these groups are significantly more likely than other groups to have mobile internet access.

19% of smartphone owners have downloaded an app specifically to track or manage health.

For more, see: Mobile Health 2012.

“I don’t know, but I can try to find out” is the default setting for people with health questions:

  • 35% of U.S. adults say that at one time or another they have gone online specifically to try to figure out what medical condition they or someone else might have.
  • One in five internet users have consulted online reviews and rankings of health care service providers and treatments.
  • 18% of internet users, or 13% of adults, have gone online to find others who might have health concerns similar to theirs. People living with chronic and rare conditions are significantly more likely to do this. See: Peer-to-peer Healthcare.

“I know, and I want to share my knowledge” is the leading edge of health care:

  • 7 in 10 U.S. adults have tracked a health indicator for themselves or for someone else. Of those, 34% share their health tracking records or notes with another person or group.
  • 26% of internet users have read or watched someone else’s experience about health or medical issues in the last 12 months.
  • 3-4% of internet users have posted their experiences with health care service providers or treatments.

For more, see The Social Life of Health Information, 2011, Medicine 2.0: Peer-to-peer Healthcare, and Tracking for Health.

People turn to different sources for different kinds of information:

When people have technical questions related to a health issue, professionals hold sway. When a situation involves more personal issues of how to cope with a health issue or get quick relief, then non-professionals are preferred:

Who is more helpful: professional vs peers

Tracking for health:

60% of U.S. adults say they track their weight, diet, or exercise routine.

33% of U.S. adults track health indicators or symptoms, like blood pressure, blood sugar, headaches, or sleep patterns.

12% of U.S. adults track a health indicator on behalf of someone they care for.

Added together, seven in ten U.S. adults say they track at least one health indicator.

Since some people track more than one aspect of their health we asked respondents to think about the health indicator they pay the most attention to, either for themselves or someone else, and to tell us how they track it:

  • 49% of trackers say they keep track of progress “in their heads.”
  • 34% say they track the data on paper, like in a notebook or journal.
  • 21% say they use some form of technology to track their health data.

Specifically, in regards to technology:

  • 8% of trackers use a medical device, like a glucose meter.
  • 7% use an app or other tool on their mobile phone or device.
  • 5% use a spreadsheet.
  • 1% use a website or other online tool.

Multiple responses were accepted, but further analysis shows that 50% of trackers record their notes in some organized way, such as on paper or using technology, and 44% of trackers keep track solely “in their heads.”

Some say tracking produces results:

  • 46% of trackers say that this activity has changed their overall approach to maintaining their health or the health of someone for whom they provide care.
  • 40% of trackers say it has led them to ask a doctor new questions or to get a second opinion from another doctor.
  • 34% of trackers say it has affected a decision about how to treat an illness or condition.

People living with chronic conditions and caregivers are more likely than other adults to track health indicators, more likely to track in a formal way, and more likely to report that it has had an impact on their health.

For more, see: Tracking for Health; Family Caregivers: Tracking for Health.

Caregivers:

39% of U.S. adults provided care for a loved one in the past 12 months, which could include helping with personal needs, household chores, finances, or simply visiting to check in.

  • 36% of U.S. adults care for an adult or multiple adults.
  • 8% of U.S. adults care for a child with a medical, behavioral, or other condition or disability.

Caring for a loved one is an activity that cuts across most demographic groups, but is especially prevalent among adults ages 30 to 64, a group traditionally still in the workforce.

Caregivers are heavy technology users. Being a caregiver is also a special factor highly correlated with certain kinds of information seeking. When controlling for age, income, education, ethnicity, and good overall health, caregivers are more likely than other internet users to take part in a wide range of health-related activities.

Figure 1_Health activities

For more, see: Family Caregivers are Wired for Health.

People living with chronic conditions:

In order to segment this group, we asked a series of questions to determine if a respondent is living with any of the following health problems or conditions and found that:

  • 25% of U.S. adults are living with high blood pressure
  • 13% are living with asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, or other lung condition
  • 11% are living with diabetes
  • 7% are living with heart disease, heart failure, or heart attack
  • 3% are living with cancer
  • 16% are living with another chronic condition

Fully 45% of U.S. adults are dealing with at least one chronic condition. Of those who are living with two or more conditions, 78% have high blood pressure and 45% have diabetes.

64% of adults living with one or more chronic conditions have internet access.

53% of adults living with one or more chronic conditions have looked online for health information.

People living with one or more chronic conditions are no more likely than other U.S. adults to track their weight, diet, or exercise routine. But they are significantly more likely to track other health indicators or symptoms and this likelihood increases among those living with more than one condition:

  • 19% of U.S. adults reporting no chronic conditions say they track health indicators or symptoms
  • 40% of U.S. adults with 1 condition track
  • 62% of U.S. adults with 2+ conditions track

For more, see: Chronic Disease and the Internet; Peer-to-peer HealthcareThe Social Life of Health Information, 2011; and Tracking for Health

People living with disability:

27% of U.S. adults live with a disability that interferes with activities of daily living, including:

  • 15% of American adults who say they have serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs.
  • 11% of American adults who say that, because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, they have serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions.
  • 9% of American adults who say they have serious difficulty hearing.
  • 8% of American adults who say that, because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, they have difficulty doing errands alone such as visiting a doctor’s office or shopping.
  • 7% of American adults who say they are blind or have serious difficulty seeing, even when wearing glasses.
  • 3% of American adults who say they have trouble dressing or bathing.

54% of people living with a disability use the internet.

42% of people living with a disability have looked online for health information.

For more, see: Americans living with disability and their technology profile; What people living with disability can teach us; and The Social Life of Health Information, 2011

People who have gone through a recent personal health change:

One in five U.S. adults (18%) says they experienced at least one of the following changes in the past year:  gaining or losing a lot of weight, becoming pregnant, or quitting smoking.

These adults are no more likely than other people to track their weight, diet, or exercise routine: 63% do so. But adults who have gone through a significant health change in the past year are more likely than other people to track another health indicator or symptom:  41% vs. 31%.

For more, see: The Social Life of Health Information, 2011Tracking for Health

Older adults:

Since older adults face significantly more health challenges than do younger adults, here is a closer look at age breaks in our data:

  • 75% of adults age 65+ and 60% of those ages 50-64 years old are living with at least one chronic health condition (compared with 34% of adults ages 30-49 and 20% of adults ages 18-29 years old).
  • 54% of adults age 65+ and 77% of those ages 50-64 years old use the internet (compared with 89% of adults ages 30-49 and 94% of adults ages 18-29 years old).
  • 12% of adults age 65+ and 32% of those ages 50-64 years old own a smartphone (compared with 59% of adults ages 30-49 and 65% of adults ages 18-29 years old).
  • 30% of adults age 65+ and 54% of those ages 50-64 years old have looked online for health information in the past year  (compared with 67% of adults ages 30-49 and 72% of adults ages 18-29 years old).
  • 81% of adults age 65+ track their weight, diet, exercise routine, or other health indicator. By comparison, 68% of adults ages 50-64, 61% of adults ages 30-49, and 64% of adults ages 18-29 years old track some aspect of their personal health.

For more, see:  Who’s Online;  Pew Internet: Mobile;  Health Online 2013Tracking for Health.