My Health Counts! e-Patients

Learn More About Peer-to-Peer Healthcare

Peer-to-peer healthcare acknowledges that patients and caregivers know things — about themselves, about each other, about treatments — and they want to share what they know to help other people. Technology helps to surface and organize that knowledge to make it useful for as many people as possible. The Pew Internet Project has collected the data that proves this as a concept. The Pew Internet Project is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization in Washington, DC which studies the social impact of the internet.

It’s not surprising that when someone gets sick, they grab their phones, they grab their laptops, they grab their loved ones, and they go. They go into that unfamiliar area of a new diagnosis, a new drug, a new treatment. They consult experts. They call and search and text. They band together and share a wealth of information from peers to supplement the wealth of information from specialists.

Just like peer to peer file sharing transformed the music industry by allowing people to share songs, peer-to-peer healthcare has the potential to transform the pursuit of health by allowing people to share what they know.

It is the confluence of two powerful forces:

  • our ancient instinct to seek and share advice about our health
  • our new found ability to do so at internet speed and at internet scale.

The bottom line is that the internet does not replace health professionals. Pew Internet’s research consistently shows that doctors, nurses, and other health professionals continue to be the first choice for most people with health concerns, but online resources, including advice from peers, are a significant source of health information in the U.S.

Peer-to-peer healthcare is a way for people to do what they have always done – lend a hand, lend an ear, lend advice – but at internet speed and at internet scale. It’s the evolution of internet use that the Pew Internet Project has been tracking in other industries, and it’s just finally having an impact on health care.

As broadband and mobile access spreads, more people have the ability – and increasingly, the habit – of sharing what they are doing or thinking. In health care this translates to people tracking their workout routines, posting reviews of their medical treatments, and raising awareness about certain health conditions.

Pew Internet research shows that one in five internet users have gone online to find others who might have health concerns similar to theirs.

That percentage is even higher – 1 in 4 – among those living with chronic disease, those who are caring for a loved one, and those who have experienced a significant change in their physical health, such as weight loss or gain, pregnancy, or quitting smoking.

All of these groups are also more likely to use social networking sites like Facebook to gather health information and to follow their friends’ health updates on the sites.

The tools are in place. The culture is shifting to expect that people have access to information and each other. There is mounting evidence that connecting patients with each other and with their data can have a positive effect on health outcomes.

But we are still at the early adoption stages.