April 12, 2014

Do People with Chronic Illnesses Use the Internet?

Yes, they do! Many are not as social as many of the younger generations, but many of the elderly do use the internet. Granted the numbers are not as large as the younger generations, which takes some of the luster off the comparison.

Chronically ill people tend to be older and not as well educated. Add to this that they're less likely to be working and it is easier to understand why they have smaller numbers.

Last week I was searching for an economical printer and I met two other people looking at printers. One fellow was a World War II veteran and he was very knowledgeable about what he was looking for. The other person was about my age and was asking all kinds of questions. Both had computers, but needed to obtain a new printer as the one they owned had quit working. All three of us settled on the same printer, but I wanted my wife to look at it before purchasing.

Susannah Fox and her colleagues at the Pew Internet and American Life Project have found that once connected to the web, there is a difference in usage. This found that in California, adults living with chronic disease are significantly less likely than healthy adults to have access to the internet:

  • 81% of adults reporting no chronic diseases go online.
  • 62% of adults living with one or more chronic disease go online.

People managing multiple diseases are less likely to have internet access:

  • 68% of adults reporting one chronic disease go online.
  • 52% of adults living with two or more chronic diseases go online.

The surprising information is that the people with internet access become more engaged with their personal health information. They are more apt to self-track observations such as weight, diet, sleep, and exercise, plus their medical lab results.  Many do not track this information electronically, but in the form of hand written notes.

Some of the interesting statistics to go along with the information is in relationship between those with chronic illnesses and healthy people.
  • Specific medical treatments (53 percent vs. 41 percent)
  • A drug you saw advertised (20 percent vs. 13 percent)
  • Drug safety or recalls (21 percent vs. 15 percent)
  • Medical test results (18 percent vs. 13 percent), among others

    Those people with chronic illnesses normally start their searches with health-specific sites such as WebMD (20 percent vs. 12 percent). Free websites are utilized far more frequently than those that charge for information access.
  • 80 percent encountered a pay wall (charge for access) and then tried to find the information elsewhere
  • 17 percent of people gave up
  • 2 percent eventually paid the fee
Not mentioned is the people that figure out how to correspond with the study author or the correspondence author from the abstract information and obtain the information free.

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