Patients Expand Support Networks to Include Online Peers

Feb 28, 2011

Many Americans turn to friends and family for support and advice when they have a health problem. This report shows how people’s networks are expanding to include online peers, particularly in the crucible of rare disease.

The most striking finding of the national survey is the extent of peer-to-peer help among people living with chronic conditions. One in four internet users living with high blood pressure, diabetes, heart conditions, lung conditions, cancer, or some other chronic ailment (23%) say they have gone online to find others with similar health concerns. By contrast, 15% of internet users who report no chronic conditions have sought such help online.

When asked about the last time they had a health issue, however, 70% of adults in the U.S. say they received information, care, or support from a health professional. Fifty-four percent of adults say they turned to friends and family. Twenty percent of adults say they turned to others who have the same health condition. The oft-expressed fear that patients are using the internet to self-diagnose and self-medicate without reference to medical professionals does not emerge in national phone surveys or in this special rare-disease community survey.

Read the full report, Patients Expand Support Networks to Include Online Peers, on the Pew Internet & American Life Project Web site.

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