Susannah Fox at Pew Internet, a project of the Pew Research Center, has just released a very interesting report entitled "Chronic Disease and the Internet." She says to me:
I love all the reports I've written over the last 10 years, but I am especially proud of this report since it combines the best of what can be done with RDD (random digit dial) survey data (nailing down once and for all that chronic disease has a significant, independent effect on online behavior) and with qualitative data (i.e., the stories patients tell about what they do, how they thrive or bravely slog on). The increase of chronic disease worldwide is one of the great challenges of our time.
Here are some excerpts from the press release:
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24, 2010 - Only 62% of adults living with chronic disease go online, compared with 81% of adults who report no chronic diseases.
"We can now add chronic disease to the list of attributes which have an independent, negative effect on someone's likelihood to have internet access, along with age, education, and income level," says Kristen Purcell, an associate director of the Pew Internet Project and a co-author of the report.
The internet access gap creates an online health information gap. More than any other group, people living with chronic disease remain strongly connected to offline sources of medical assistance and advice such as health professionals, friends, family, and books. However, once they have internet access, people living with chronic disease report significant benefits from the health resources found online.
The report, "Chronic Disease and the Internet," is based on a national telephone survey which included 2,253 adults, 36% of whom are living with chronic disease (heart conditions, lung conditions, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer). Illustrative quotes from patients were gathered through online surveys conducted by PatientsLikeMe.com and HealthCentral.com.
Looking at the population as a whole, 51% of American adults living with chronic disease have looked online for any of the health topics included in the survey, such as information about a specific disease, a certain medical procedure, or health insurance. By comparison, 66% of adults who report no chronic conditions use the internet to gather health information.
Lack of internet access, not lack of interest in the topic, is the primary reason for the gaps. In fact, when demographic factors are controlled, internet users living with chronic disease are slightly more likely than other internet users to access health information online.
"The deck is stacked against people living with chronic disease. They are disproportionately offline. They often have complicated health issues, not easily solved by the addition of even the best, most reliable, medical advice," says Susannah Fox, an associate director of the Pew Internet Project and a co-author of the report. "But those who are online have a trump card. They have each other. Those who have access use the internet like a secret weapon, unearthing and sharing nuggets of information found online."