Changing role of the Internet among people with chronic diseases and disabilities

In 2000, Dr. Stephen Kaye from the University of California in San Francisco reported on Computer and Internet Use Among People With Disabilities. The survey included about 50,000 people nationwide.

Now, the Pew Internet & American Life Project has released a report titled E-patients with a Disability or Chronic Disease. The results come from 268 surveys of users of the Internet with chronic conditions were compared to 1711 healthy people.

Let’s see how far we’ve come.

In 2000

  • People with disabilities had much lower rates of Internet use: 24% vs 52% overall.
  • Regardless of the computer’s location (home, work, library) people with disabilities were less likely than those without disabilities to use the Internet: 10% vs 38%.
  • Using the Internet for health information was not even included among the survey questions.

In 2007

  • Half of adults with chronic conditions use the Internet; and once online, they are avid consumers of health information.
  • They are more likely to use specific websites rather than start a search using a general search engine.
  • Those with chronic conditions are more likely to report that their searches affected treatment decisions, interactions with doctors, ability to cope with their condition, and their dieting and fitness regimen.

Today, people with disabilities and chronic disease are computer savvy. Here are the pros and cons of the Internet in 2007 from their perspective.

On the positive side:

  • 71% believed they were able to make appropriate healthcare decisions during their last search for health information online.
  • 59% were relieved or comforted by the information they found online.
  • 56% felt confident to raise new questions or concerns about a health issue with their doctor.
  • 55% were eager to share their new health or medical knowledge with others.

On the negative side:

  • 30% were overwhelmed by the amount of information.
  • 19% were confused by the information.
  • 9% felt frightened by the serious or graphic nature of the information.

These responses are similar to those with no chronic condition. However, one question elicited different responses.

  • 31% felt frustrated by a lack of information or an inability to find what they were looking for online, compared with 20% of e-patients who report no chronic conditions.

The bottom line?
Pretty impressive changes in just half a decade.

In order for the Internet to meet the needs of the disabled and chronically ill in the next decade it will be necessary for the net to become less opinionated and provide more referenced, evidence-based CAM information on the Internet. It’s a goal that would improve all areas of the Internet.

10/8/07 19:48 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at www.Vicus.com, a complementary and alternative medicine website.