Survey: One-third of younger Americans looking for healthcare consults online

PHILADELPHIA — More Americans want technology to play a bigger role in the healthcare system, The Atlantic reported Wednesday, as part of a survey the magazine conducted in collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline. 

According to the survey, as many as 64% of Americans are using online health resources — and of those, 40% self-diagnose their ailments — and 94% of those Americans report the health/medical information they find online is important to their health. The younger population, in general, are far more prone to embrace and utilize health information technology. This group also tends to place greater emphasis on removing face-to-face interaction with healthcare professionals and self-diagnosing their conditions.

Only 12% of respondents have emailed or sent a text message to a physician regarding a health question, however. 

"It's interesting to me that a third of people have never looked up their health condition or symptoms on the Internet, while nearly 90% have never emailed or texted with their doctor," note James Hamblin,'s health editor. "That last point may be a slippery slope in terms of a physician's limited time and work-life balance, not to mention limited compensation structures for that kind of communication, but it seems to me one area where the healthcare community could achieve a happier medium. Imagine being able to ask your doctor a quick question or check in with him or her directly without going all the way to an office visit." 

More than 1-in-3 young Americans are willing to have primarily online interaction with doctors. Young people (i.e., those under age 30 years), Hispanics and upper-income Americans are most open to communicating with their doctor mainly through text messages or e-mails. As many as 32% of Americans under 30 years who use online health resources act on the information they find without consulting a medical professional. And significant proportions use health websites for purposes that would otherwise require doctors' visits.

The poll also found 9-out-of-10 Americans consider themselves to be in good personal health, and 81% said the health of people in their community is good. This finding is in stark contrast to recent research on the health status of America, including one-third of U.S. adults who are obese and 26 million adults and children who have diabetes. Additionally, while the majority of Americans believe their health status has not changed recently, 26% say their health has declined and cited worsening economic circumstances as a critical factor.

While Americans believe a variety of community factors are very important to their health — such as good air and water quality (87%), regular access to doctors and dentists (82%), healthy food choices (81%) and nearby hospitals and urgent care facilities (74%) — lower-income Americans had the least access to community health resources. Minorities and urban, low-income Americans in particular were less convinced of their access to clean air and water, nearby hospitals, green spaces and safe housing and healthy food choices. For example, 89% of low-income Americans cited good air and water quality as being very important to their health, yet only 58% say they have a great deal of access to these environmental and community services. Additionally, 84% said regular access to doctors and dentists was very important to their health but only 66% felt they have a great deal of access to them.

The Atlantic has partnered with GSK on a national initiative to examine the barriers and identify opportunities to build healthier communities in the United States. The program, "A Conversation on Community Health" consisted of a series of events in U.S. cities to explore what it means and what it takes to be a healthy community.

The national phone survey of 1,004 Americans was conducted Jan. 12-20. 



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