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Chronic Diseases & The Internet Report: Impact for Pharma

You may have seen the headline that U.S. adults living with chronic disease are significantly less likely than healthy adults to have access to the internet (62% vs. 81%).

I finally got a chance to read and analyze the full report “Chronic Diseases and the Internet” sponsored by the Pew Internet Project and the California HealthCare Foundation released March 24, 2010.

Having a chronic disease is generally associated with being older, African American, less educated and living in a lower-income household. The fascinating conclusion of this research is that when these demographics are factored out, having a chronic disease in and of itself has an independent, negative effect on someone’s likelihood to have internet access.

Once Online, They Get Social

Once online, the data shows having a chronic disease increases the probability that you will take advantage of social media to share what you know and learn from peers.

The report states: “When other demographic factors are held constant, having a chronic disease significantly increases an internet user’s likelihood to say they work on a blog or contribute to an online discussion, a listserv, or other online group forum that helps people with personal issues or health problems.”

A Narrow Definition of Chronic Disease

This study is an example of the excellent data generated by Pew and the CHCF, however, it naturally has limitations. Keep in mind that they only asked about five chronic diseases: high blood pressure, lung conditions, heart conditions, diabetes, and cancer. And high blood pressure (which can often be easily managed with medication) varies greatly from the average chronic condition. Also, chronic pain wasn’t part of the study.

What Does This Mean for Pharma?

Looking for drug information is the one activity that is significantly more popular among internet users with chronic diseases.

Percentage of internet users who have looked online for prescription or over-the-counter drugs
No Condition: 42%
1+ Condition: 48%
2+ Conditions: 53%

According to the report: “Statistical analysis shows that the presence of chronic disease has an independent effect on someone’s likelihood to seek information about drugs – the greater the number of diseases reported, the greater the interest in this type of information…. Many respondents to the qualitative survey report looking up new prescriptions, either for themselves or on behalf of a loved one.”

So the study reinforces the need for pharma to provide online information for this population. While not all of this target audience is online, those who are look for drug data.

The Good News

More than any other group, people living with chronic disease remain strongly connected to offline sources of medical advice, especially healthcare professionals. Hopefully, this population is receiving the support and information they need from these offline sources.


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