The Rise of the e-Patient

Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project,  presented this wonderful overview of the Project’s health findings at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, CA, on January 12.

View more presentations from Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project

Another summary of the Project’s health research is the following tip sheet, compiled by yours truly. I plan to keep it updated, so bookmark Pew Internet: Health on

Internet access:

78% of U.S. adults use the internet (May 2011 survey). For more, see: Who’s Online.

83% of U.S. adults own a cell phone (May 2011 survey). For more, see: Gadget Ownership and Pew Internet: Mobile.

Online health information search:

80% of internet users, or 59% of U.S. adults, look online for health information.

17% of cell phone owners, or 15% of adults, have used their phone to look up health or medical information.

  • This finding is of particular interest to those interested in trends related to young people, Latinos, and African Americans, since these groups are significantly more likely than other groups to have mobile internet access. For more, see: Technology Trends Among People of Color and Mobile Health 2010.

The most commonly-researched topics are specific diseases or conditions; treatments or procedures; and doctors or other health professionals. For more, see: summary charts of health topics.

Also, keep in mind that the typical search for health information is on behalf of someone else — information access by proxy.

Peer-to-peer healthcare:

Pew Internet is tracking overall trends in how the internet is changing people’s relationships with health information and with each other.

“I don’t know, but I can try to find out” is the default setting for people with health questions.

  • 34% of internet users, or 25% of U.S. adults, have read someone else’s commentary or experience about health or medical issues on an online news group, website, or blog.
  • 24% of internet users, or 18% of adults, have consulted online reviews of particular drugs or medical treatments.
  • 18% of internet users, or 13% of adults, have gone online to find others who might have health concerns similar to theirs. People living with chronic and rare conditions are significantly more likely to do this. See: Peer-to-peer Healthcare.

“I know, and I want to share my knowledge” is the leading edge of health care.

  • 27% of internet users, or 20% of adults, have tracked their weight, diet, exercise routine or some other health indicators or symptoms online.
  • 6% of internet users, or 4% of adults, have posted comments, questions or information about health or medical issues on a website of any kind, such as a health site or news site that allows comments and discussion.
  • 4% of internet users, or 3% of adults, have posted their experiences with a particular drug or medical treatment.

For more, see The Social Life of Health Information, 2011 and Medicine 2.0: Peer-to-peer Healthcare.

As always, I would love to hear from people about what’s missing or what they wish we’d study. I welcome comments (below), tweets (@SusannahFox), and emails (sfox at pewinternet dot org).


Posted in: demographics | positive patterns | pt/doc co-care





12 Responses to “The Rise of the e-Patient”

  1. Here’s what I really want to know: In a dream world, what do patients want their primary care clinician to be doing? How do they really want to interact (text, phone, video/skype visits, phone calls, longer visits, more online writing and searchable content, a blog of their doc’s thoughts, links to research curated by experts, etc). Often I make assumptions from this data that may be unfair. Ie, if >80% of Americans have a cell phone, and we know over 70% of those prefer texting, then I assume many patients/adolescents would love to text w me, their doc. But I don’t think we know that. What works best in our lives as patients in times of wellness and illness for learning, and really, how can I help make it happen as a clinician ecstatic about the opportunities that technology and (social) media afford.

    • Very well said. There are some assumptions made that aren’t necessarily fully proven or understood. And as a clinician, certainly it’d be a challenge to have social interactions with all your patients all the time. You don’t wanna say “well then standardize the types of interactions” because then it waters down the true power of social media.

  2. Ben Toth says:

    I’d be interested to know the extent to which the American public sees health care as a common good, and to understand more about views on collective provision and social insurance in the US.

  3. Susannah Fox says:

    Love these ideas! Keep ’em coming.

    Jill Plevinsky tweeted: “adolescents with chronic illnesses.. the pediatric epatient, or as i like to call them: epatient minors. :)”

    Our rare-disease communities survey included lots of parents (since rare conditions often crop up or are diagnosed at birth or in early childhood) but we didn’t collect any stories from actual kids.

    And of course Pew Internet has done in-depth research related to 12-17 year-olds:

    Here’s one teen/health study I remember, from the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2001, but I don’t think it focuses on kids with chronic conditions:

    Generation How Young People Use the Internet for Health Information

  4. Keith W. Boone says:

    Youth (13-18), the internet and healthcare intersections.

  5. Robyn says:

    What are those young people really looking for when they go online? What are they hoping to get out of it? What are they talking about on social networking sites?how can we make health more interesting and useful for them online? How can we make sites/places more engaging and ‘sticky’ I.e. Keep them engaged?

  6. I am interested in understanding how effective hash tags (on Twitter) have been in creating sustained communities and contributing to advocacy.

    It’s a go to tactic among many who are trying to organize people/dialogue or to promote content, but I wonder how broad the use is, how much it inclines people to join new communities versus being a “insider” thing.

    Can’t find any research out there that addresses this question.


  7. Susannah Fox says:

    To keep expectations in check, Pew Internet’s next health survey is scheduled to go into the field in late summer 2012. I am always scanning the landscape for new research ideas – the above are fantastic & I’d love to hear more.

  8. Wonderful — thank you!

    It might be interesting to track older people’s adoption/use/attitudes more closely…greater likelihood of chronic illness, greater need for quick prob-solving info/social support, but also greater barriers in adopting to and using new technologies (e.g., visual, motor). Lots of assumptions are now being made about their abilities absent good data.

    Would be fascinating to see trends unfold over time, plus findings would be so helpful to planners / developers.

  9. […] growing number and importance of e-patients. Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project, presented this wonderful overview of the Project’s health findings at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center […]

  10. Mark Calloway says:

    E-patient is a one good topic to talk-about, this is a matter of social and medical connections. This will help and produce awareness to us.

  11. […] 490,000 users in 2011 to 650,000 users in 2012, and is anticipating over 900,000 users in 2013. Patients want to receive health information and services online and mobile, and when a patient portal is […]

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