Younger People Turning to Smartphones for Health Advice: Pew

A Pew report finds that people mostly research health questions offline. But a high number of people in their 20s access health information on their mobile devices.

A new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project and the California HealthCare Foundation shows that Americans still go mostly offline for health resources, but the numbers are higher for adults in their 20s.

Pew has reported that 96 percent of people ages 18 to 29 have a cell phone.

In the 18-29 age range, 15 percent of mobile phone users downloaded health apps to their device.

Meanwhile, 29 percent of users in the 18-29 age range looked up health information on their mobile device, compared with 18 percent in the 30-49 age range, 7 percent in the 50-64 age range and 8 percent for 65 and older.

"We're talking about a saturation point for people in their 20s," Susannah Fox, Pew's associate director for digital strategy and author of the report, told eWEEK. "For 29 percent of that population to be looking for health information is a pretty interesting data point, because they are early adopters in terms of all types of mobile applications."

Of the survey participants, 85 percent said they use a cell phone, and 17 percent of mobile phone users research health or medical information online. Still, Fox notes that people are cautious about relying on technology to manage their health.

"Family members and friends are still where people turn most often for health information and advice," she said. "If they're really sick, people still want to see a doctor or a nurse."

People use the Internet to obtain a second or third opinion, Fox said. "We're not necessarily seeing a diminished interest in people using health professionals for what they're good at, but people are supplementing that relationship with more information from the Internet."

Fox compared the evolution of mobile devices to the growth of the Internet in 2000. "We knew that the media landscape was going to change, but we didn't know how it was going to change," Fox said.

The report also breaks down mobile health use by race and ethnicity, with 15 percent of African-American, 11 percent of Hispanic and 7 percent of white mobile phone owners more likely to use mobile health apps.

Meanwhile, 25 percent of Hispanic mobile phone users researched health information, compared with 19 percent for African-Americans and 15 percent for whites.

In addition, urban mobile phone owners had a stronger likelihood than those users in the suburbs or rural areas to have a mobile health app installed on their handset, Pew reports.

For urban users, 12 percent downloaded health apps; for suburban participants, 9 percent installed the mobile tools; and for rural users, 4 percent installed mobile health apps.

The report describes how people can use mobile phones to count calories and nutrition information, keep track of workouts, stop smoking, research medications, calculate body mass index, and determine disease risks.

You can also store PHRs (personal health records) and transfer information to caregivers, Pew reports.

Slightly more males (10 percent) than females (8 percent) had mobile health applications installed on their phones.

Numbers were also higher for college-educated survey participants. Mobile app users with some college education totaled 13 percent of respondents, and 9 percent of college grads participating in the study downloaded the tools.

Pew conducted its survey from Aug. 9 to Sept. 13 and interviewed 3,001 adults, of which 2,485 were mobile phone users.