New Study Looks At Online Usage for Healthcare Activities

DOC Report Finds Researching Health Plans, Practitioners and Medical Conditions Online Common

The Department of Commerce has released a new report looking at how we use the Internet. The report, Exploring the Digital Nation: America’s Emerging Online Experience, is a follow-up to the DOC’s 2011 report on home Internet usage.  For the report researchers at the DOC’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration examined July 2011 Census Bureau data for 53,000 households, looking at the specifics of what we do when we go online. The June 2013 report includes a section on healthcare (starting on page 9 of the report.)

In the report, the authors looked at the demographics of online research related to healthcare activities. The report looks at online usage and healthcare in three areas:

  • Researching health Plans and medical practitioners
  • Researching medical treatments
  • Use of telehealth

Key findings from the report include:

  • 72% of Internet users between ages 25 and 64 reported looking up health plans or practitioners online.
  • 42% of Internet users  went online to find health information for self-diagnosis or treatment.
  • Rate at which Americans used the Internet for medical research did not vary dramatically by age group, with 42% of Internet users between 25 and 44, 42% between 45 and 64, and 38% ages 65 and older conducting this type of research online.
  • While researching health plans and finding medical information are common activities, the data suggests Internet users are far less likely to interact electronically with their healthcare professionals. Just 7% of Internet users reported going online to access medical records, participate in video conferencing with a doctor, or take advantage of remote procedures such as heart rate monitoring.
  • 8% of Internet users in urban areas reported engaging in telehealth activities, compared to 4% in rural areas.

In drawing any conclusions on estimating the Internet’s overall impact on healthcare and healthcare policy challenges, the researchers say that exercise is beyond the scope of this report. They do suggest that the report findings make it clear that Internet users are going online to get information about health insurance,  providers, to assist in self-diagnosis and for treatment of health issues. These activities may allow Internet users to “leverage online information to make more-informed choices about their healthcare.”

Read or download the full DOC report here.