Where people go for information, how they access it, and how they use it makes for a fascinating discussion, especially when dealing with the medical world. A recent Pew Research Center survey investigated where Americans go to get answers to their health care questions. The findings are a reflection of the times.
Peer-to-peer online groups, especially those dealing with rare and chronic diseases, have grown nationwide and worldwide. This new Pew study reveals that 1 in 4 Internet users living with a chronic disease—such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart condition, lung condition, cancer, or another chronic ailment—have gone online to search for other people with similar health concerns. Caregivers and Internet users who have experienced a significant crisis or a change in their health are among those who seek people who are like them for counsel, especially on how to cope with the illness on a psychological level.
However, the study verifies that the health professional is still the central source of information for most Americans. When asked about the last time they had a health issue, 70% of adults in the United States said they received information, care, or support from a health professional—and that interaction happened offline. Compared with 54% of adults who turned to family and friends, and 24% who sought out fellow patients, clearly the health professional is the mainstay for information. But the online peer activity is gaining ground and remains a strong supplement.
Where the study missed the mark, however, was in defining exactly who that health care professional is. Asking “Who is more helpful when you need…”, the health professional group was listed as “professional sources like doctors and nurses.” With all due respect, where are the pharmacists? When access is king, no one provides the patient with more access than the pharmacist.
The distinction between professional help and personal sources is more clearly defined. The “more helpful when you need information about prescription drugs” question came in at 85% for health professionals and only 9% for fellow patients, family, and friends. “More helpful when you need information about alternative treatments” scored as 63% for health professionals and 24% for fellow patients, family, and friends. Not surprisingly, for “more helpful when you need emotional support in dealing with a health issue,” the health professional group came in at 41%, whereas fellow patients, family, and friends came in at 51%.
Reality tells us that face-to-face access for health care by patients is a critical need—and the public will seek it where they can find it. That will mean pharmacists— and patient-driven online sources—will continue to provide answers to people’s health questions. Pharmacy Times is here to be the best source possible for pharmacists to go on answering those questions.
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