05/02/2006 - Research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that, as more and more Americans come online, so too do more Americans rely on the internet for important health information. In a March 2005 survey, 12% of online adults - representative of 17 million people - said the internet played a crucial or important role as they helped another person cope with a major illness. When the same question was asked in a January 2002 survey, nearly the same proportion (10%) said the net played a major role in such circumstances, but that represented only 11 million people. In addition, the March 2005 survey found the number of those who said the internet played a crucial or important role as they themselves coped with a major illness reached 7 million while a December 2005 survey found that one in five (20%) online Americans said the internet has greatly improved the way they get information about health care.
Still, while the internet's role as a health care resource has expanded along with the number of internet users, the web continues to play a substantially larger role in many of life's other pursuits - such as shopping and hobbies. For example:
- The share of online Americans who said the internet has greatly improved their ability to shop doubled - from 16% in March 2001 to 32% in December 2005.
- The share of online Americans who said the internet has greatly improved the way they pursue hobbies and interests climbed from 20% in March 2001 to 33%.
- The share of online Americans who said the internet has greatly improved their ability to do their job rose to 35%, up from 24% in March 2001.
So what's going on here? Does the internet matter less for health than it does for finding that one-of-a-kind iPod case you've been hunting for?
The short answer is: it depends on your personal situation. Many Americans are deepening their connections to the internet, whether for entertainment or to help a loved one through a crisis. And while the audience for the latest DVD may be larger than the audience for clinical trial information, the impact on someone's life in the latter case may be dramatically different in scale.
Read the full report Finding Answers Online In Sickness and In Health
on the Pew Internet & American Life Project Web site.