January 14th, 2013

Pew Health Online 2013: From a medical librarian perspective

First, I want to express my gratitude to Susannah Fox at Pew Internet for making advance copies of Health Online 2013 (a 53 page PDF) available to bloggers so I was able to read & reflect a bit on this at home Monday night before the launch of the public report on Tuesday. The data for the report was collected in August-September 2012 based on both landline and cell phone interviews with 3,014 adults living in the United States.

I’ll break this coverage down into two parts: short & sweet (aka just the stats), and anything but sweet with regards to information paywalls and their notable effect on searching for health information. Paywalls are an area  librarians are usually thinking about, but especially now after the tragic death of Aaron Swartz last week.

Just the Stats

The ‘health diagnosers’ section

  • 1 in 3 American adults (35%) have gone online specifically to find out what medical condition they or someone else might have
  • Pew refers to those who have searched for health information online specifically to find health answers ‘online diagnosers’ in the report
  • 46% of online diagnosers agreed that the information they found online led them to think they needed medical attention
  • 41% of online diagnosers said a medical professional confirmed their diagnosis, 35% did not visit a clinician to get a professional opinion

The ‘online health seekers’ section

  • 72% of Internet users said they sought health information of some kind over the past year (not necessarily diagnostic)
  • Pew refers to these people as ‘online health seekers’ in this report
  • 77% of online health seekers start their searches at a search engine (roughly the same percentage as the first report in 2010), 13% start at a website dedicated to health information

Mobile health information

  • 85% of U.S. adults own a cell phone, 31% of these adults say they have used their phone to look for health or medical information online.
  • Latinos, African Americans, those between the ages of 18 and 49, and those who have attended at least some college education are more likely to search for mobile health information.

One in four people seeking health information online have hit a pay wall

To me as an information professional this is particularly important and not within the ‘at a glance’ stats, so I’m quoting it in entirety below from page 16, bold emphasis mine.

Twenty-six percent of internet users who look online for health information say they have been asked to pay for access to something they wanted to see online. Seventy-three percent say they have not faced this choice while seeking health or medical information online. Of those who have been asked to pay, just 2% say they did so. Fully 83% of those who hit a pay wall say they tried to find the same information somewhere else. Thirteen percent of those who hit a pay wall say they just gave up. Men, women, people of all ages and education levels were equally likely to report hitting a pay wall when looking for health information. Respondents living in lower-income households were significantly more likely than their wealthier counterparts to say they gave up at that point. Wealthier respondents were the likeliest group to say they tried to find the same information elsewhere. No income group was more likely to say they paid the fee.

While the academic libraries can have a part in leading to Small Victories in support of Open Access (OA) publishing in the first place, there clearly remains so much to be done to raise public awareness that librarians are there to help you access the information the internet is trying to charge you for… or locate an information resource that is an even better match for your question in the first place. Speaking of, were we librarians aware of libraries.pewinternet.org? I must have still been on a holiday daze to miss Mobile Connections to Libraries released on December 31, 2012 and other goodies in there!

Posted at 09 03 PM | 2 Comments » | print this post

2 Responses to “Pew Health Online 2013: From a medical librarian perspective”

  1. Michelle says:

    While I know Pew looked regular users I wonder what happens when doctors hit a pay wall or just simply an ILL wall. Do they order it or do they skip it for something that is full text.
    I know many will call me to see if I have a magic way to get the full text. When I tell them no but they can order it for free and we will deliver it online with a few days whether they do that. Now our ILLs are robust so I know people order. I’m just curious as to how many don’t bother.

  2. Nikki Dettmar says:

    That is certainly a user information seeking behavior question hospital & other medical librarians can keep in mind, and have some related followup questions to identify if they didn’t know about ILL services or consider it too challenging/time consuming to request them.

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