Caregivers More Likely To Use Online Health Resources

Pew Internet study finds more caregivers than non-caregivers use the Internet for health information, drug and provider ratings, and social support.

Ken Terry, Contributor

June 20, 2013

4 Min Read

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Nearly four in ten adults (39%) are caring for an adult or a child with significant health issues, according to a new Pew Internet survey.These caregivers are more likely than non-caregivers to take part in a wide range of health-related activities, both online and offline, the study said.

Of respondents who fit the profile of caregivers, the Pew researchers found the following results:

-- 24% consult online reviews of drugs, vs. 13% of other adults

-- 30% get information, care, or support from others with the same condition, vs. 21% of others

-- 46% go online for a diagnosis, vs. 28% of others

-- 52% participated in any online social activity related to health in the past year, vs. 33% of others

-- 70% got information, care or support from friends and family, vs. 54% of others

-- 72% gathered health information online, vs. 50% of others

Also, 28% of caregivers got information from friends and family both online and offline, compared to 14% of non-caregivers. 10% of caregivers and 5% of others got information and support from others with the same condition online or offline, and 13% of caregivers and 5% of non-caregivers got online and offline information from healthcare professionals. A negligible percentage of people in all three categories got this information only online.

One surprising fact that emerged from the survey is that just 7% of caregivers used online or mobile tools in medication management, despite the fact that 90% of them owned cell phones.

[ Not all health apps are created equal. Read When To Ignore That Mobile Health App. ]

To explain this finding, Susannah Fox, associate director of the Pew Internet Project, cited a previous Pew survey on mobile health patterns. "As you'll recall, our other survey showed that health apps in general are not a wild success," she told InformationWeek Healthcare. "Only about 1 in 10 smartphone owners have downloaded any kind of health app. So this is still an untapped market. We have a population that has the technology: they've got the Internet and mobile devices. They have a clear interest and need [for this information], but they're not yet being served -- or they haven't found the right app."

She was also not surprised that so few caregivers had sought information from a doctor or other healthcare professional online. Other consumer surveys, she said, have shown a consistently low level of online interaction between physicians and patients.

59% of caregivers with Internet access said that online resources had helped them provide care and support for the person within their care. Younger caregivers were more likely to say this than older ones.

The survey results suggest -- but don't prove -- that many caregivers use social media for a variety of health-related purposes. For example, 34% of caregivers vs. 20% of non-caregivers had read or watched someone else's commentary or experience about health or medical issues online in the past 12 months. 22% of caregivers, twice as many as non-caregivers, had gone online to find others who might have health concerns similar to theirs. And 11% of caregivers, compared to 6% of others, had posted a health-related question online or shared their own personal health experience online.

Caregivers are also more prone than non-caregivers to look at online reviews of drugs, treatments and providers. 24% of caregivers, vs. 13% of others, had consulted online ratings of drugs or treatments. 22% of caregivers had looked at online rankings of doctors or other providers, compared to 14% of non-caregivers. And 19% of caregivers had consulted online rankings or reviews of hospitals or other medical facilities -- nearly twice the number of others who did so.

Interestingly, caregivers are also more likely than non-caregivers to track their own health. 72% of caregivers -- compared to only 63% of non-caregivers -- track their own weight, diet, exercise routine, blood pressure, blood sugar, sleep patterns, headaches or some other health indicator.

Caregivers, who are evenly distributed by age, gender, income, and educational level, are no more likely than other non-caregivers to be living with a health issue that requires tracking, Fox pointed out. "But caregivers are more likely to have personally faced a serious medical emergency in the past 12 months, or to have been hospitalized unexpectedly or to have experienced a significant change in their health."

Other studies show that more than a third of caregivers continue to provide care to others while suffering from poor health themselves. In fact, a caregiver's one physical health is often an influential factor in a caregiver's decision to place an impaired relative in a long-term care facility, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance.

About the Author(s)

Ken Terry


Ken Terry is a freelance healthcare writer, specializing in health IT. A former technology editor of Medical Economics Magazine, he is also the author of the book Rx For Healthcare Reform.

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