Few Seniors Search for Health Information Online, Survey Finds
Many U.S. seniors -- residents ages 65 and older -- have never used the Internet, and as a result, they lack access to an "increasingly important resource for health information," according to new survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Kopytoff, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/13). The survey involved 1,450 random telephone interviews of adults ages 50 and older between March 5, 2004, and April 18, 2004. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points (Jesdanun, Associated Press, 1/13). The survey found:
- 31% of seniors have used the Internet, and 21% have searched for health information online (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/13).
- 70% of people ages 50 to 64 have used the Internet (Associated Press, 1/13). About 50% have searched for health information online (Dalton, Long Island Newsday, 1/13).
- 5% of seniors have used the Internet have purchased prescription drugs, which indicates that among seniors, the practice "is really not a significant phenomenon at this point," Rideout said (Long Island Newsday, 1/13).
- 19% of seniors who have used the Internet said that they check the source of information found online, and 58% said that they never or rarely check the source.
- 34% of seniors who have searched for health information online said that they have discussed the information with a health care provider, and 23% said that they have modified their behavior because of such information.
- 54% of seniors who have used e-mail said that they have received promotional e-mails from pharmaceutical and other health care companies.
- 1% of seniors said that their physicians had recommended certain health or medical Web sites to them.
The survey found that income was a large factor in whether seniors have used the Internet. Sixty-five percent of seniors with annual household incomes of $50,000 or more have used the Internet, compared with 15% of those with annual household incomes of $20,000 or less, according to the survey (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/13). In addition, 18% of seniors who reported that they had a high school diploma or less education have used the Internet, the survey found (Associated Press, 1/13).
The survey concluded, "If we are to take advantage of the potential the Internet offers as a useful tool for seniors, then health providers, advocates and the entire public health community will need to reach out to seniors." The study also said that the medical community must "ensure that the information and tools they need are available, the sites are usable and that seniors are comfortable navigating their way through the online information world" (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/13).
Rideout said that seniors who do not use the Internet lack access to important information, such as hospital ratings and Medicare prescription drug discount card comparisons (Long Island Newsday, 1/13). She added, "As a society, we really haven't focused on that very much. We focus on kids" (Associated Press, 1/13).
Susannah Fox, associate director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, said that the lack of Internet use among seniors has "high stakes," adding, "A doctor doesn't always have time to go through all the questions that someone might have, but the Internet has time. Dr. Google has time" (Long Island Newsday, 1/13). The survey is available online.