The Pew Internet Project released the latest estimate for the e-patient population: 75 percent of internet users. Here are some details from the survey.
Two of the new data points relate to health and health care. The October-December 2007 national phone survey shows that 75 percent of internet users answered yes to the single-line question, "Do you ever use the internet to look for health or medical information?"
Ten percent of internet users say they searched for health information "yesterday," which in a tracking survey like this one yields a picture of the "typical day" online. Health has moved up in the "typical day" list (from 7 percent in 2006 to the current 10 percent of internet users), but for most people the average day includes lots of emails (60 percent of internet users), general searches (49 percent), and news reading (39 percent) if they are online at all (30 percent of internet users are offline on a typical day).
The usual patterns among the basic demographic groups hold true:
- 68% of online men look online for health info
- 81% of online women
- 76% of white internet users
- 65% of African-American internet users
- 71% of English-speaking Hispanic internet users (new health data on the whole Latino population is coming out August 13 from the Pew Hispanic Center)
- 68% of 18-29 year-old internet users
- 78% of 30-49s
- 76% of 50-64s
- 71% of internet users age 65+ (but remember, only one-third of seniors go online at all)
The Oct-Dec 2007 survey is also distinguished by the fact that we included a group of cell phone users in our sample. We believe this is an important part of capturing an accurate picture of the U.S. population since 14.5% of all American adults live in households with only wireless phones (see "Polling in the age of cell phones").
What do these numbers have to do with participatory medicine? I have seen our data used over and over to convince policy makers, medical professionals, investors, and even patients themselves that the internet is an important source of health information and a force for change in health care (whether for good or for ill). I’m like an ammunition dealer in the internet wars — all sides use our data since the Pew Internet Project does not endorse technologies, industry sectors, or outcomes.
In the end, what I said in March still holds true whether the estimate is 75 percent or 80 percent of internet users seeking health information online: When this many internet users are doing something, the horse is out of the barn.
The Pew Internet Project will update our 17 health topic trend data in a survey to be fielded this fall but we are collecting ideas about what else we should ask e-patients. I would love to hear new ideas either here in the comments or via email: What are your observations? Which health social media applications are gaining traction? What are you worried about? What are you excited about? What’s next?