The Pew Internet Project released the latest estimate for the e-patient population: 75% of internet users. Details on this and an upcoming survey follow…


My colleagues recently updated our top three trend charts: Who’s Online, Internet Activities, and Daily Internet Activities.

Two of the new data points relate to health and health care. The October-December 2007 national phone survey shows that 75% of internet users answered yes to the single-line question, “Do you ever use the internet to look for health or medical information?” 10% 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% in 2006 to the current 10% of internet users), but for most people the average day includes lots of emails (60% of internet users), general searches (49%), and news reading (39%) if they are online at all (30% 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% or 80% 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?

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