Sixty-one percent of all U.S. adults have used the Internet to look for health or medical information, and adult women, non-hispanic whites, and employed adults with higher incomes are among the most frequent users, according to a Data Brief published by a division of the CDC on July 21, 2011.
This data was collected by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) as part of the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) in 2009, and first reported in a Data Brief on July 21, 2011, by the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).
According to the CDC Data Brief, the NHIS survey was the first ever national survey to include questions about “use of the Internet to look up health information, refill a prescription, schedule a medical appointment, learn about health topics in online chat groups, and e-mail a health care provider.”
The CDC reports that 74% of all U.S. adults use the Internet, 61% have looked for health or medical information on the Internet, and 49% have accessed a website that provides information about a specific medical condition or problem.
“As the percentage of adults in the United States using the Internet continues to grow, the Internet as a source of health information for consumers may become increasingly important,” the CDC Data Brief states.
The report provides estimates, based on the 2009 NHIS data, about the extent of adult use of the Internet for health information in the past 12 months, by selected sociodemographic characteristics.
Among the key findings:
- “Among adults aged 18 and over, women were more likely than men to have used the Internet for health information.
- Among adults aged 18–64, non-Hispanic white persons were almost twice as likely as Hispanic persons to have used the Internet for health information.
- Adults aged 18–64 with higher incomes were more likely to have used the Internet for health information than adults with lower incomes.
- Employed adults aged 18–64 were more likely than adults who were unemployed or not in the workforce to have used the Internet for health information.”
“Greater use of the Internet for health information in the past 12 months among adults was associated with being ages 25–44, non-Hispanic white, employed, college educated, with income at or above 300% of the FPL [Federal Poverty Level], and having private health insurance,” the report summarized.
“The active involvement of consumers in managing their health care includes activities such as use of computers to access, retrieve, store, or share health care information. For consumers this may include using the Internet to look up health information, using e-mail or text messaging to communicate with health care providers or pharmacies, and having an electronic health record,” according to the CDC’s Data Brief.
A recent Pew Research poll of 3,001 adults, similarly found that Americans are increasingly turning to the internet for health information, and also found increasing use of the internet to share health information with others with concerns similar to one’s own, which Pew called “peer‐to‐peer healthcare.”
In the Pew sample, 65% of adult females, 81% of college graduates, and 83% of those with annual household income over $75,000 said they use the internet to find health information, and 18% said they have gone online to find others who might have health concerns similar to theirs. This “peer-to-peer healthcare” percentage increased to 23% among those with chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart conditions, lung conditions, cancer, or some other chronic ailment, and to 26% among those currently caring for a loved one.
Aging Baby Boomers as Family Caregivers Accelerate the Trend
As the Baby Boom generation approaches their senior years, it is no surprise that internet use to seek health and medical information is increasing.
Other reports have shown that due in large part to the aging of the Baby Boom Generation (the 77 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964), demand for health care services and the related costs are projected to increase dramatically.
Aging Baby Boomers have been shown to be prolific users of the internet.
And, Baby Boomers now comprise the swelling ranks of the nation’s family caregivers, who increasingly need access to health and medical information and resources in fulfilling the challenging and expanding role of the family caregiver as care manager. According to the Pew poll, cited above, fully 79% of those currently caring for a loved one use the internet, and 70% look for health and medical information online, a higher percentage than for any other group of persons by health status measured in the poll.
The complete CDC Data Brief, Number 66, July 2011, on Use of the Internet for Health Information: United States, is available on the website of the CDC.
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