The new Pew Study on the impact of the Internet on American life came out last week, and as usual, someone, @mrinaldesai, to be exact, Tweeted it and I found it. Yes, this is what Twitter is for: Discovery.
In 2000, 46% of Americans had access to the Internet. Less than a decade later, 74% of Americans are online, and 61% of them are searching for health information. Pew refers to them as e-patients.
What does this mean? Well, besides the obvious, it means that access to care and information from reliable sources isn't as available as it should be compared to the demand.
And while most Americans still prefer to ask a health professional for information, they will also consult a friend or family member, or go online. And when they go online, they're not necessarily looking for information for themselves; more than half of online health inquiries are on behalf of someone other than the person searching. Once they find something, e-patients talk to someone else about what they found. Looking for health information has become a social experience. But it's pretty discreet because of this silly system we play in today. People are looking for information, but they don't want to publicly admit it in the current health care environment.
Significantly, people who look online for health information seem to prefer user-generated content. This will be a shock to the Medscapes and the Mayo Clinics of the world. That's because they are looking for something 1) recent, and 2) tailored for someone who has had a similar experience to the person they are looking on behalf of. The easiest way to find that today is online.
Ironically, while we are all looking for user-generated content, very few of us are actually producing it. A very small number of Pew's population of e-patients are actively contributing. This isn't very different from what Forrester Research finds about social media and user-generated content overall: a small number of people do most of the "production," even though these platforms enable all of us to be publishers.
If you add up all the ways to participate, and assume there are no duplications, it's still only 37%, and I'd bet -- with my non-statistical hat on -- that it's more like the same 6% who do all of those things.
A relatively small number of people are sharing their health information in the general places, like MySpace and Facebook. And I can see why: especially if you have a serious condition, you are not likely to make it public in the current health insurance environment, where a pre-existing condition can lose you coverage or even a job.
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