When it comes to sharing and/or looking for health information online, are you a social butterfly or a wallflower? New findings from the Pew Internet and Life Project’s The Social Life of Health Information 2011 survey were released yesterday, showing that online resources, including advice from peers, serve as a significant source of health information in the U.S., while doctors, nurses, and other health professionals continue to be the first choice for most people with health questions and concerns. Additionally, this is the first time anyone has reported, in a national consumer survey, how consumers are using the Internet for self-tracking of their health.
One of 15 health issues were searched online by 80% of Internet users, or about 59% of the U.S. population, the survey showed. These issues include questions about a food recall, environmental hazard, or information on a specific disease, hospital or doctor.
Susannah Fox, Associate Director and author of the study, says the online conversation about health is being driven forward by two forces: 1) the availability of social tools and 2) the motivation, especially among people living with chronic conditions, to connect with each other.
General findings from the survey include:
- Social network sites are popular, but used only sparingly for health updates and queries.
- People caring for loved ones are more likely than other adults to use social network sites to gather and share health information and support.
- Relatively few use hospital ranking and doctor review sites.
- One in four adult internet users have consulted online reviews of drugs or treatments.
- One in four adult internet users track their own health data online.
- More people report being helped rather than harmed, by online health information.
- The typical search for health information is on behalf of someone else
It is clear that health information is going mobile, mostly driven by access to Internet. While this practice is not yet commonplace, there are “pockets” of individuals of highly engaged patients and caregivers who are taking an active role in tracking and sharing what they have learned.
When faced with a health question or problem for yourself or others, do you turn to an online resource for an answer and/or share your experiences and health stories with others?
*Pew noted that the survey findings were similar to those reported in 2009. For more specific statistics relating to social media in context, health topics, and peer-to-peer healthcare, read the full report here.