By: Brenda Neugent
According to several recent polls, the Internet is considered a serious tool for baby boomers when it comes to researching healthcare.
Six in 10 of them looked online for health information in the past year, according to a report from the nonprofit Pew Research Center. The vast majority of them, the report said, begin their research through a search engine.
According to Google, the 10 most popular health-related topics users search for are flu, followed by cold, labor, diarrhea, balance, diet, back pain, allergies, rash, and lupus.
According to Pew, one-third of all Americans have also used the internet for diagnostic purposes, seeking out the symptoms of pregnancy as the top search, followed by influenza, diabetes, anxiety, thyroid, HIV, mononucleosis, lupus, herpes, and pneumonia.
Still, baby boomers especially, who make up the majority of those with chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and heart disease, are more likely to rely on their healthcare professionals for advice, and instead turn to the Internet to read stories about the health experiences of others and share their own experiences online.
This is especially true, pollsters found, for those with more than one chronic condition.
“Our research makes it clear that when the chips are down, people are most likely to get advice from a clinician, but online resources are a significant supplement,” says Susannah Fox, lead author of the study and an associate director at the Pew Research Center. “Just as significantly, once people begin learning from others online about how to cope with their illnesses, they join the conversation and also share what they know.”
The internet is also considered an important tool for baby boomers seeking out information on specific drugs, according to another poll.
That poll, from Decision Resources, a research and advisory firm for pharmaceutical and healthcare issues, found that boomers who spent time online in search of healthcare information tended to seek out info on a specific disease or drug, often visiting one or two sites to do their research.
Still, pharmaceutical companies–aside from those aimed at type 2 diabetes–are generally not offering online tools to benefit their patients.
“We know that baby boomers use the internet for health-related purposes, so drug manufacturers–especially those who market treatments targeted toward the boomer population–should be matching their digital marketing budgets to boomers’ online habits,” said Monique Levy, vice president of research at Decision Resources. “With the growing focus on outcomes, drug marketers could explore online services that drive treatment adherence such as patient support programs and online nurse hotlines.”
Baby boomers are defined as the generation born in the years from 1946 through 1964.