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Study: More Caregivers Seeking Health Information Online

Philip Moeller

Nearly 40 percent of all adults in the United States help take care of a loved one or friend, and most of them make regular use of Internet tools and online services to help them, according to polling by the Pew Research Center and the California HealthCare Foundation.

Nearly 75 percent of caregivers have gone online to gather some kind of health information, compared with only half of non-caregivers, Pew reported. The center polled more than 3,000 adults in September and August last year and said its findings were accurate within a range of plus or minus 2.4 percent.

"Caregivers display what we at the Pew Research Center have identified as a core social impact of the Internet: the ability to quickly gather information on a complex topic to make decisions," said the Pew Internet & American Life Project report, titled "Family Caregivers are Wired for Health."

[Read: How to Succeed at Juggling Caregiving Burdens.]

Pew's profile of caregivers showed that caregiving needs are comparable across all age, education, income and racial groups. The poll found 39 percent of American adults were caregivers, up sharply from 30 percent in 2010. Pew did not explain the increase but noted that "75 percent of U.S. adults age 65 and older are living with a chronic condition such as high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease."

While caregivers are more likely to use online resources for help, Pew said their use of such tools is spotty. For example, about 40 percent of caregivers manage medications for a loved one or friend, but only 7 percent of caregivers use online or mobile tools to do so. And while nearly 90 percent of those polled said they owned a cellphone, only a third of them have used it to gather health information. And only 11 percent of cellphone users said they had used online tools or apps.

In one question, people were asked to think about the most important health indicator they tracked and how they tracked it. Nearly half said they kept the information in their head, and 34 percent said they wrote it down in a notebook or journal. Only 5 percent said they used a spreadsheet or other computer program to keep track of the information, and 7 percent said they used apps and other tools on a mobile device.

[Read: 5 Steps to a Family Caregiving Agreement.]

Pew sought details on the health information and activities people accessed from computers, smartphones and mobile devices. Interestingly, caregivers who went online to help a loved one or friend also wound up paying more attention to their own health. Here are the percentages of people who sought specific types of online information:

--A specific disease or medical problem: 55 percent

--A certain medical treatment or procedure: 43 percent

--How to lose weight or how to control your weight: 27 percent

--Health insurance, including private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid: 25 percent

--Drug safety or recalls: 16 percent

--A drug you saw advertised: 16 percent

--Medical test results: 15 percent

--Caring for an aging relative or friend: 14 percent

--Pregnancy and childbirth: 12 percent

--Food safety or recalls: 12 percent

--How to reduce your health care costs: 11 percent

--Any other health issue: 20 percent

Here are six online health activities that people said they did:

--Consulted online reviews of particular drugs or medical treatments: 18 percent

--Consulted online rankings, reviews of doctors or other providers: 17 percent

--Consulted online rankings, reviews of hospitals or other medical facilities: 14 percent

--Posted a review online of a doctor: 4 percent

--Posted a review online of a hospital: 3 percent

--Posted a personal experience with a particular drug or medical treatment online: 3 percent

[Read: Have Anxiety? There's an App for That.]

And among the 11 percent of cellphone users who said they had apps, here are the things they used them for:

--Exercise, fitness, pedometer or heart rate monitoring (includes specific types of exercise like running, ab workouts, yoga, etc.): 38 percent

--Diet, food, calorie counter: 31 percent

--Weight: 12 percent

--Period or menstrual cycle: 7 percent

--Blood pressure: 5 percent

--WebMD: 4 percent

--Pregnancy: 3 percent

--Blood sugar or diabetes: 2 percent

--Medication management (tracking, alerts, etc.): 2 percent

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