Pew: Online resources a 'significant supplement' for chronic condition patients

A new survey from the Pew Research Center and the California HealthCare Foundation finds that while people with chronic conditions are now more likely than ever before to seek health information online, seeking information from a physician remains the most preferred mode for such patients.

Surveying 3,104 adults living in the U.S., Pew researchers found that Internet users are more likely than other online adults to:

  • Obtain information about medical problems, treatments and drugs online
  • Consult online reviews about drugs
  • Read or watch things online about someone else's health experience

"Our research makes it clear that when the chips are down, people are most likely to get advice from a clinician, but online resources are a significant supplement," Susannah Fox, lead author of the study and an associate director at the Pew Research Center, said in an announcement. "Just as significantly, once people begin learning from others online about how to cope with their illnesses, they join the conversation and also share what they know."

In Pew's summary of findings, the authors point of that 45 percent of Americans are living with chronic conditions, according to research published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Pew identified a "diagnosis difference"  (including age, income, education, ethnicity, and overall health status), finding that living with a chronic disease has an "independent, negative" effect on someone's likelihood to use the Internet. In other words, while people with chronic diseases are less likely to have Internet access and the ability to use the web, those that do are much more likely than other Internet users to look up health information online.

The survey found that 31 percent of U.S. adults with chronic conditions say they have gone online specifically to try to diagnose themselves or someone else, and are more likely to talk about these online findings with a doctor.

Sixty percent of online diagnosers with chronic conditions say they talked with a medical professional about the information they found online, compared to 48 percent of online diagnosers who reported no conditions to physicians.

A study published in June in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that online health communities can be powerful tools for addressing chronic care issues as the number of people afflicted with such ailments rises.

Meanwhile, a survey published last December commissioned by Royal Philips Electronics found that one-quarter of Americans said they trust symptom checker websites, symptom check mobile apps or home-based vital sign monitors as much as they do their doctors. In addition, about an equal proportion (26 percent) often use these resources instead of going to the doctor.

To learn more:
- read the research from Pew