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The Social Life of Health Information

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has released the results from a survey this week on the way people are seeking out health information.  Before the advent of podcasts, widespread use of the Internet, the public used traditional means to locate health information.  Visits to the doctor, phone calls to health professionals or trusted friends were the norm.  While these methods are still being used today, the landscape has been altered quite a bit and people have many more options.  What do we do with the information we find online? Do we take that information to our health professionals to augment the discussion? Do we simply trust what we find online and become “armchair physicians?”  The survey results refer to the more technologically integrated health seekers as ‘e-patients.’

Some interesting findings from this survey:

  • 57% of respondents use the Internet when locating health information and;
  • 86% use an actual person like a doctor or nurse
  • Two-thirds of people that find information online then discuss with someone else their findings
  • 41% of e-patients have read another person’s commentary or experience about health or medical issue

Small numbers of people are using social software like Twitter and Facebook.  Mostly these services are used to follow another person’s health issue and then perhaps include their own commentary on the health issue.  60% of respondents have said that information they have found online has impacted the way they have then pursued treatment.  Interestingly with this fairly high number, only 3% of people have said that they are aware of someone else being harmed by following medical advice found on the Internet.  The survey does not mention whether the 3% discussed what they found on the Internet with a health professional.

Read the entire report here: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2009/8-The-Social-Life-of-Health-Information.aspx.

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