Only 62 percent of adults living with chronic disease go online, compared with 81 percent of adults with no chronic diseases, according to a new report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
"We can now add chronic disease to the list of attributes which have an independent, negative effect on someone's likelihood to have Internet access, along with age, education, and income level," says Kristen Purcell, an associate director of the Pew Internet Project and a co-author of the report.
The Internet access gap creates an online health information gap. More than any other group, people living with chronic disease are strongly connected to offline sources of medical information and assistance such as health professionals, friends, family, and books. Once they have Internet access, people living with chronic disease report significant benefits from the health resources found online.
Overall, 51 percent of American adults living with chronic disease have looked online for health information about a specific disease, a certain medical procedure, or health insurance. By comparison, 66 percent of adults who have no chronic conditions use the Internet to gather health information.
Lack of Internet access, not lack of interest in the topic, is the main reason for the gaps. Pew says when demographic factors are controlled, Internet users living with chronic disease are slightly more likely than other Internet users to access health information online.
"The deck is stacked against people living with chronic disease. They are disproportionately offline. They often have complicated health issues, not easily solved by the addition of even the best, most reliable, medical advice," says Susannah Fox, an associate director of the Pew Internet Project and a co-author of the report.
"But those who are online have a trump card. They have each other. Those who have access use the internet like a secret weapon, unearthing and sharing nuggets of information found online."