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Twenty Six Percent Of Online Adults Discuss Health Information Online; Privacy Cited As The Biggest Barrier To Entry

Twenty six percent of U.S. online adults have discussed health information online in the past 12 months 1 and 30 percent of those have changed a health behavior as a result. Leading experts agree that social media can help improve health and while non-users 2 are citing privacy as their top barrier to engaging further, experts caution that those who discuss health information online should be more conscious of the accuracy of information received.

GE Healthcare recently commissioned an online survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, to gain more insight on whether or not social media, online communities, message boards and/or forums can encourage improved health behavior. At the same time, the company convened a panel of global experts through a virtual roundtable to discuss how social networking can best improve health. The results show that engagement is notable but there’s work to do to convert conversations into changes in behavior.

“We are just starting to tap into the power of social media and its ability to change health behaviors,” said Jeff DeMarrais, chief communications officer at GE Healthcare. “It will require a mix of smart tools, savvy consumers, pioneering health experts and education to continue changing conversations and behaviors. GE Healthcare has introduced several first-of-their-kind programs that do just this and there’s much opportunity ahead.”

Insights from Consumers

The survey of more than 2,100 U.S. online adults done in October 2012 provided clear insights into how social media can affect health behaviors.
  • Eighty two (82) percent of online adults have used social media in the past 12 months.
    • Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter topped the charts for most-used sites.
  • Twenty six (26) percent of online adults discussed health information online 1.
  • Of those who discussed health information online 1:
    • Thirty (30) percent had changed a health behavior as a result.
      • Many said to have changed their diet and/or fitness behavior while few stated quitting smoking or changing a behavior related to stress or serious illness management.
    • More than four in 10, 42 percent, used it to seek or post information about a current medical condition or find clinical trials on a specific condition.
    • Nearly 35 percent used it to get or give support from/to others for fitness or health goals.
    • Twenty nine (29) percent used it to friend/follow brands, companies, and/or organizations related to fitness, health, diet or specific medical conditions.
  • Of note was why users said they used social media/online communities/message boards/forums for health-related topics.
    • Nearly half, 49 percent, said it was because social media is a quick and easy way to get health information or recommendations.
    • Nearly as many, 47 percent, said it represents a good way to get different opinions from a wide range of people.

According to the survey, many online adults agreed that others knowing about their diet, health and fitness, and/or specific medical condition(s) is the top concern to discussing health information online 1 (46 percent). Online adults cited trustworthiness (45 percent) and accuracy of information (44 percent) as top concerns, as well. During the GE Healthcare virtual roundtable on social networking in health, the panel of global experts stressed that accuracy of information should be even more top of mind for consumers. “Perhaps most worrying is the fact that the validity of the information [on the internet] is not a prerequisite for promoting the information,” said Dr. Bernie Hogan of the Oxford Internet Institute. Dr. Hogan participated in the recent GE Healthcare virtual roundtable.

The more social you are, the healthier you can be

According to Dr. Nate Cobb of the Georgetown University School of Medicine and Science Advisor to social health site MeYou Health, the more social you are, the more likely you are to achieve your health goals using social networking sites to support you. During GE Healthcare’s roundtable, Dr. Cobb explained, “Most of our data suggest that there is a relationship between how many connections you have within the site, and your ultimate outcomes, which is: the more social you are, essentially the more likely you are to stick with the product on a day-to-day basis and the more likely you are to report having completed a challenge,”

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