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The Pew Internet/California HealthCare Foundation report, The Social Life of Health Information, is packed with new findings from a survey of 2,253 adults, including 502 cell-phone interviews, conducted in either English or Spanish.

We spent a bundle of money on making this a random sample of the U.S. population, but guess who got a call on his cell phone? None other than e-patient Dave! He had never talked with me about the survey questions or reviewed a draft, so I decided to keep his interview in the mix, but he surprised the heck out of the interviewer when he finished the sponsor identification for her at the end.

It’s a long report, so here is a cheat sheet.

Comfort food

This survey once again establishes that 83% of internet users (61% of adults) in the U.S. look online for health information (I call these people “e-patients”). That tracks with every other survey conducted in the last few years – ours and others – so it’s just comfort food for data geeks.

Is Health 2.0 hip or hype?

Hip. There is significant uptake for Health 2.0-type activities online: 59% of e-patients have consulted blog comments, hospital reviews, doctor reviews, and podcasts. 20% of e-patients have posted comments, reviews, photos, audio, video or tags related to health care. People are tailoring their online information-gathering, targeting “just-in-time someone-like-me” health info and doing some sharing, too, especially young people (18-49 years old) and those with mobile internet access.

Anything in here for Information Therapy fans?

The primary relationships in health care are institutions which, in the words of John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid “will not budge” (hat tip to their book, The Social Life of Information, which was one of Tom Ferguson’s must-reads).

When asked, “Now thinking about all the sources you turn to when you need information or assistance in dealing with health or medical issues, please tell me if you use any of the following sources…”
• 86% of all adults ask a health professional, such as a doctor.
• 68% of all adults ask a friend or family member.
• 57% of all adults use the internet.
• 54% use books or other printed reference material.
• 33% contact their insurance provider.
• 5% use another source not mentioned in the list.

You read that right: The internet is tied in third place with books! Vive l’impremerie!

The good news: They like you! They really, really like you!

60% of e-patients (42% of all adults) say they or someone they know has been helped by following medical advice or health information found on the internet. That’s up from 2006 when 31% of e-patients (25% of all adults) said that. Just 3% of e-patients say they or someone they know has been harmed by following medical advice or health information found on the internet, a number that has remained stable since 2006.

The bad news: We don’t have full participation

Only 25% of adults with less than a high school education go online for health information, compared with 50% of high school grads, and 85% of college grads. 27% of adults age 65+ are e-patients, compared with 59% of adults age 50-64, and about seven in ten adults age 18-49. 44% of Latino adults go online for health information, compared with 51% of African Americans and 65% of whites.

Further, two-thirds of e-patients ages 18-49 have done at least one of the Health 2.0-type activities listed, compared with one-half of e-patients age 50 and older. There are no significant differences when it comes to education – those with less education who engage in any health activity are just as likely as other e-patient to post and read comments, reviews, etc. Same goes for race and ethnicity.

Shout-outs to special interests

Mobile health fans: You’re the big winner here. We did statistical regressions and indeed mobile access is a significant, independent factor in health social media participation.

Facebook/MySpace/Twitter fans: You’re the big loser in this survey. There is very little evidence that social networks have become e-patient hang-outs. Health orgs may want to spend their resources elsewhere for now: just 6% of e-patients who use social network sites started or joined a health-related group.

Health publishers: The market for comments, ratings, and tags is ripening. If you’re not opening up to user-generated input, start thinking about it. Your audience is waiting.

Health professionals: Judgment Day is approaching and only a tiny slice of your patients are on the review committee. 35% of adults have looked online for information about doctors or other health professionals and, of those, one-third have consulted online rankings or reviews and only 7% of that group has posted a review!

Hospital administrators: 28% of adults go online in search of information about hospitals or medical facilities and, of those, 45% have consulted online rankings or reviews and only 9% of that group has posted a review.

VCs: There is steady and increasing interest in health: flip to the back to see which topics are hot, like fitness info which saw an an 88% growth since ‘02, a more rapid increase than any other health topic covered in the survey. But know this: few people do this stuff every day or even every week.

Pharma: 33% of adults have looked online for information about prescription or OTC drugs. What’s interesting is that people who look up drug info are not likely to also look at alternative or experimental treatments – your customers are pretty focused.

E-patients and caregivers: Contribute! People are listening.


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