Below are highlights of the
Pew Internet Project’s research related to health and health care.
(Note: Copied here with permission on 1/9/2014. The original will be updated whenever new data is available.)
- 85% of U.S. adults use the internet (May 2013 survey). For more, see: Who’s Online.
- 91% of U.S. adults own a cell phone; 56% of U.S. adults own a smartphone (May 2013 survey). For more, see: Pew Internet: Mobile.
Online health information:
- 72% of internet users say they looked online for health information within the past year.
This is based on a September 2012 survey, the first time we asked people to think only about their online health activities in the past 12 months. For historical perspective, see: Health Topics and Who Doesn’t Gather Health Information Online?
- 77% of online health seekers say they began their last session at a search engine such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo. Another 13% say they began at a site that specializes in health information, like WebMD [or Modern Health Talk]. Just 2% say they started their research at a more general site like Wikipedia and an additional 1% say they started at a social network site like Facebook.
- The most commonly-researched topics are specific diseases or conditions; treatments or procedures; and doctors or other health professionals.
- Half of online health information research is on behalf of someone else — information access by proxy.
- 26% of online health seekers say they have been asked to pay for access to something they wanted to see online (just 2% say they did so).
Clinicians remain a central resource:
When asked to think about the last time they had a serious health issue and to whom they turned for help, either online or offline:
- 70% of U.S. adults got information, care, or support from a doctor or other health care professional.
- 60% of adults got information or support from friends and family.
- 24% of adults got information or support from others who have the same health condition.
The vast majority of this care and conversation took place offline, but a small group of people did communicate with each of these sources online. For more, see: Health Online 2013.
- 31% of cell phone owners, and 52% of smartphone owners, have used their phone to look up health or medical information.
This finding is of particular interest to those interested in trends related to young people, Latinos, and African Americans, since these groups are significantly more likely than other groups to have mobile internet access.
- 19% of smartphone owners have downloaded an app specifically to track or manage health.
For more, see: Mobile Health 2012.
“I don’t know, but I can try to find out” is the default setting for people with health questions:
- 35% of U.S. adults say that at one time or another they have gone online specifically to try to figure out what medical condition they or someone else might have.
- One in five internet users have consulted online reviews and rankings of health care service providers and treatments.
- 18% of internet users, or 13% of adults, have gone online to find others who might have health concerns similar to theirs. People living with chronic and rare conditions are significantly more likely to do this. See: Peer-to-peer Healthcare.
“I know, and I want to share my knowledge” is the leading edge of health care:
- 7 in 10 U.S. adults have tracked a health indicator for themselves or for someone else. Of those, 34% share their health tracking records or notes with another person or group.
- 26% of internet users have read or watched someone else’s experience about health or medical issues in the last 12 months.
- 3-4% of internet users have posted their experiences with health care service providers or treatments.
People turn to different sources for different kinds of information:
When people have technical questions related to a health issue, professionals hold sway. When a situation involves more personal issues of how to cope with a health issue or get quick relief, then non-professionals are preferred:
Tracking for health:
- 60% of U.S. adults say they track their weight, diet, or exercise routine.
- 33% of U.S. adults track health indicators or symptoms, like blood pressure, blood sugar, headaches, or sleep patterns.
- 12% of U.S. adults track a health indicator on behalf of someone they care for.
- Added together, seven in ten U.S. adults say they track at least one health indicator.
Since some people track more than one aspect of their health we asked respondents to think about the health indicator they pay the most attention to, either for themselves or someone else, and to tell us how they track it:
- 49% of trackers say they keep track of progress “in their heads.”
- 34% say they track the data on paper, like in a notebook or journal.
- 21% say they use some form of technology to track their health data.
Specifically, in regards to technology:
- 8% of trackers use a medical device, like a glucose meter.
- 7% use an app or other tool on their mobile phone or device.
- 5% use a spreadsheet.
- 1% use a website or other online tool.
Multiple responses were accepted, but further analysis shows that 50% of trackers record their notes in some organized way, such as on paper or using technology, and 44% of trackers keep track solely “in their heads.”
Some say tracking produces results:
- 46% of trackers say that this activity has changed their overall approach to maintaining their health or the health of someone for whom they provide care.
- 40% of trackers say it has led them to ask a doctor new questions or to get a second opinion from another doctor.
- 34% of trackers say it has affected a decision about how to treat an illness or condition.
People living with chronic conditions and caregivers are more likely than other adults to track health indicators, more likely to track in a formal way, and more likely to report that it has had an impact on their health.
- 39% of U.S. adults provided care for a loved one in the past 12 months, which could include helping with personal needs, household chores, finances, or simply visiting to check in.
- 36% of U.S. adults care for an adult or multiple adults.
- 8% of U.S. adults care for a child with a medical, behavioral, or other condition or disability.
Caring for a loved one is an activity that cuts across most demographic groups, but is especially prevalent among adults ages 30 to 64, a group traditionally still in the workforce.
Caregivers are heavy technology users. Being a caregiver is also a special factor highly correlated with certain kinds of information seeking. When controlling for age, income, education, ethnicity, and good overall health, caregivers are more likely than other internet users to take part in a wide range of health-related activities.
For more, see: Family Caregivers are Wired for Health.
People living with chronic conditions:
In order to segment this group, we asked a series of questions to determine if a respondent is living with any of the following health problems or conditions and found that:
- 25% of U.S. adults are living with high blood pressure
- 13% are living with asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, or other lung condition
- 11% are living with diabetes
- 7% are living with heart disease, heart failure, or heart attack
- 3% are living with cancer
- 16% are living with another chronic condition
- Fully 45% of U.S. adults are dealing with at least one chronic condition. Of those who are living with two or more conditions, 78% have high blood pressure and 45% have diabetes.
- 72% of adults living with one or more chronic conditions have internet access, compared with 89% of adults who report no conditions.
Even when age and education are held constant, living with a chronic disease independently increases the likelihood that someone will not have internet access. And the more conditions people are managing, the less likely they are to have internet access: 80% of adults living with one condition have internet access, compared with 61% of those living with 2+ conditions.
- 78% of U.S. adults living with chronic health conditions own a cell phone, compared with 91% of those who report no conditions.
Living with a chronic condition is not a significant factor in predicting someone’s likelihood to own a cell phone. Statistical analysis shows that the gap is better explained by the fact that people with significant health challenges are more likely to be older, living in lower-income households, and reporting a lower level of formal education.
Once online, people living with living with one or more conditions are more likely than other online adults to:
- Gather information online about medical problems, treatments, and drugs.
- Consult online reviews about drugs and other treatments.
- Read or watch something online about someone else’s personal health experience.
People living with chronic conditions are also more likely than others to take their health research seriously: they fact check with a medical professional what they find online and are likely to consult a clinician when they have a health issue.
People living with one or more chronic conditions are no more likely than other U.S. adults to track their weight, diet, or exercise routine. But they are significantly more likely to track other health indicators or symptoms and this likelihood increases among those living with more than one condition:
- 19% of U.S. adults reporting no chronic conditions say they track health indicators or symptoms
- 40% of U.S. adults with 1 condition track
- 62% of U.S. adults with 2+ conditions track
People living with disability:
27% of U.S. adults live with a disability that interferes with activities of daily living, including:
- 15% of American adults who say they have serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs.
- 11% of American adults who say that, because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, they have serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions.
- 9% of American adults who say they have serious difficulty hearing.
- 8% of American adults who say that, because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, they have difficulty doing errands alone such as visiting a doctor’s office or shopping.
- 7% of American adults who say they are blind or have serious difficulty seeing, even when wearing glasses.
- 3% of American adults who say they have trouble dressing or bathing.
54% of people living with a disability use the internet.
42% of people living with a disability have looked online for health information.
People who have gone through a recent personal health change:
One in five U.S. adults (18%) says they experienced at least one of the following changes in the past year: gaining or losing a lot of weight, becoming pregnant, or quitting smoking.
These adults are no more likely than other people to track their weight, diet, or exercise routine: 63% do so. But adults who have gone through a significant health change in the past year are more likely than other people to track another health indicator or symptom: 41% vs. 31%.
Since older adults face significantly more health challenges than do younger adults, here is a closer look at age breaks in our data:
- 75% of adults age 65+ and 60% of those ages 50-64 years old are living with at least one chronic health condition (compared with 34% of adults ages 30-49 and 20% of adults ages 18-29 years old).
- 54% of adults age 65+ and 77% of those ages 50-64 years old use the internet (compared with 89% of adults ages 30-49 and 94% of adults ages 18-29 years old).
- 12% of adults age 65+ and 32% of those ages 50-64 years old own a smartphone (compared with 59% of adults ages 30-49 and 65% of adults ages 18-29 years old).
- 30% of adults age 65+ and 54% of those ages 50-64 years old have looked online for health information in the past year (compared with 67% of adults ages 30-49 and 72% of adults ages 18-29 years old).
- 81% of adults age 65+ track their weight, diet, exercise routine, or other health indicator. By comparison, 68% of adults ages 50-64, 61% of adults ages 30-49, and 64% of adults ages 18-29 years old track some aspect of their personal health.
For more information:
- Our Statistics Page,
- Our list of over 400 Healthcare Infographics,
- Who’s Online;
- Pew Internet: Mobile;
- Health Online 2013; and
- Tracking for Health.
My Advice as Editor of Modern Health Talk
Market researchers like PEW tend to top out their segmentation at age 65+, but is that the Real Senior? Laurie Orlov, Industry Analyst at Aging in Place Technology Watch, thinks that segmentation is wildly misleading and argues that the Real Senior is 75+ or even 85+. I agree and posted her argument here.
If you buy any of these market research reports, make sure you get a chance to interview the authors personally to understand their assumptions, research process, and what shapes their conclusions. Make sure they aren’t just extrapolating trends but also include thoughtful discussion of market drivers, inhibitors and enablers, because you’ll need that insight to craft your strategies.
Do the authors understand what’s driving telehealth, including the ageing populations and resulting increase in chronic illness, environmental pollution, the availability of nutritious foods, rising care costs, and physician shortages? What do they think of obstacles posed by legal, privacy and security issues, payment models, medical school curriculum and funding? What impact will regulators and the political process have, either as driver or inhibitor? And what will be the short- and long-term impact of broadband Internet access and the exponentially accelerating pace of tech innovation? Consider how quickly Moore’s Law is finding its’ way into healthcare (http://www.mhealthtalk.com/moores-law-and-the-future-of-healthcare/) and ask what will likely happen as medical devices keep getting cheaper, smaller, more accurate, and easier to use.
Consider the impact of IBM Watson moving from physician assistance tool to advising and coaching consumers directly. How quickly will each of the medical functions done today by physicians in hospital & clinic settings safely move down-market to consumers at home? Won’t retail clinics and kiosks, and home doctor/nurse visits, just be stepping-stones along a path toward that eventuality?
And finally, what phases will the market projections go through, and when? What levers might you have to make projections happen more quickly? And what should you watch out for that could make them happen more slowly?