Half of smartphone owners are now using their devices to research health information, according to a new report by The Pew Internet & American Life Project.
In the report "Mobile Health 2012," released on Nov. 8 by Pew and the California HealthCare Foundation, 52 percent of respondents said they collect health information on their phones, compared with only 6 percent of cell phone owners without "smart" capabilities.
For the poll, Princeton Survey Research Associates International conducted a phone survey Aug.-Sept. 2012 of 3,014 adults in the United States.
The number of cell phone and smartphone owners looking up health info has doubled from two years ago, according to Pew. One in three, or 31 percent of cell phone owners look up health information on their devices, compared with 17 percent of cell phone owners in 2010.
The nature of mobility and being able to carry the Internet with you is changing how people access health information as they look up answers to medical questions or research medical symptoms, Susannah Fox, associate director for the Pew Internet & American Life Project and author of the report, told eWEEK.
People experiencing significant health changes such as losing weight, quitting smoking and becoming pregnant are also more likely to use the mobile health tools, Fox noted.
Of cell phone users, 41 percent of people facing a significant health change in the past year used their phone to research health information compared with 28 percent of users not facing a health change.
Meanwhile, 29 percent of smartphone owners who had made a significant health change were likely to download health apps compared with 17 percent who had not made a significant change.
The most popular mobile health apps were tools for exercise, diet and weight loss.
About 38 percent of respondents use mobile health apps to track exercise routines, 31 percent use them to manage their diet, and 12 percent downloaded the apps to monitor their weight, according to the report.
In addition, those users facing a medical crisis were more likely to research health information on cell phones than other users, according to Pew.
Fox described three factors that have increased the amount of online health research over time: the move from dial-up to broadband, the rise in use of smartphones and the diagnosis of a medical condition.
Although only 19 percent of users have downloaded a mobile health app, that number will increase as clinical innovation such as e-prescribing continues to develop, said Fox.
Despite the increasing use of smartphones for mobile health research, 61 percent of interactions with doctors occur offline, Fox noted.
The survey also highlighted a difference in gender as far as who downloads health apps. The survey showed 23 percent of female smartphone owners have download apps to manage their health compared with 16 percent of male smartphone owners.
Regarding electronic communication with doctors, 80 percent of cell phone owners send and receive text messages, but only 9 percent receive medical updates or alerts, Pew reported.
The survey didn't address direct email and text messaging with doctors and nurses, according to Fox.