The digital eHealth divide or The e-patient paradox?

August 27, 2008

Yesterday PEW INTERNET & AMERICAN LIFE PROJECT launched a new report entitled The Engaged E-patient Population written by Susannah Fox. It has to be said that PEW INTERNET, specially Sussanah Fox, is leading probably the best monitoring of Health and the Internet in United State. She has been launching surveys and analizing date since 2000 when “The Online Health Care Revolution: How the Web helps Americans take better care of themselves” was published. You can check all the reports at PEW INTERNET HEALTH.

As you can read bellow, one of the result of those research is the contours of the e-patient group.

The Pew Internet Project estimates that between 75% and 80% of internet users have looked online for health information. We get slightly different results for the size of the e-patient population depending on our survey strategy, but these results are close enough to make us confident we have the right contours of this group.

Our estimate is also in line with Harris Interactive’s latest data on health information seekers (81% of internet users; 66% of all adults). We got the 75% reading in our October-December 2007 national phone survey, which included 2,054 adults ages 18 and older, including 500 cell phone users. In this survey we asked: “Do you ever use the internet to look for health or medical information?”

In surveys we conducted between 2003-2007 (and plan to repeat in coming months), respondents were prompted with questions about specific health topics, such as diet, drugs or
alternative treatments, yielding a consistently higher estimate (80%) for the percentage of internet  users who seek health information online in 2003, 2004 and 2006.

In one of the chapter of my thesis based on a telephone survey to a representative sample of Catalan population 2000 phone calls were done. The results reveal that 42,4% of the Internet users (24,3% of population) have looked for health information or have made a procedure related to health on the Net. Those results are still far away from 80% of American Internet users who use the Internet with health proposes.

When I have characterized the people who use the Internet with health proposes I have found that those have a better education, a better job position and they are younger than the rest of he population. These variables are very related with the determinants of health status so as It was expected the e-patient group was also healthier.

Here goes the e-patient paradox, the people who have more probability to be in worse health status are those who have also more probability to be dropped out of the Internet. Our empirical analysis shows a clear digital divide related with age, education and job position. These variables also configure the components of what could be called the digital eHealth divide.