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52% of smartphone users look up health information

Senior Director, Social Media

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PEW Internet, a non-profit group, studies both US Internet usage and mobile trends. It has a well-earned reputation for reliable data so when it releases a report on health-related topics we pay attention.

In their latest report, Mobile Health 2012, released Nov 8, health and mobile converge. This report tracks the increase in mobile access of health information via both smartphones and older feature phones. In places the researchers report on all mobile users, which we tend to ignore because the amount of internet research that happens on feature phones is negligible (and may actually represent respondents who don’t understand the questions).

Smartphones vs. Feature Phones

52% gather health information on their phones, compared with 6% of non-smartphone owners. This highlights the issue with feature phone questions… no one uses them to interact on the internet.

80% of cell phone owners say they send and receive text messages, but just 9% of cell phone owners say they receive any text updates or alerts about health or medical issues (this further reinforces that feature phones are not used for health topics). This data comes from the population as a whole, when studies focus on select patient groups the results can be very different, for example this study from Denver Health.

Apps Face Headwinds

19% of smartphone owners have at least one health app on their phone. Exercise, diet, and weight apps are the most popular types. So, 81% of smartphone owners do not have these apps on their phones.

This provides some insight into how health information seekers are using their mobile devices: they are browsing and searching for information, but then either acting on it immediately or taking their search to the desktop. This is similar to the ecommerce pattern described by Google in their Multi-Screen World report.

Like texts, it would be interesting to see how many patients with chronic conditions use apps to help manage them. One data point that shows the way is respondents who have had a “significant health change” in the past year are more likely to use smartphone health apps (29% compared to 19%).

For a condition that requires


The report shows that health usage of cell phones (mix of smartphones and feature phones) is up across the board, but maddeningly it does not break out smartphones specifically. On initial read it looks like the migration to smartphones is powering the increased use for health information.

What does this mean? This report shows that smartphone users are using them to search the internet for health information, and are willing to use the devices for tracking of overall health, but are resistant to using them for specific health conditions. The numbers are compared to the population as a whole, though, so it would be interesting to see the numbers compared only inside the patient communities.

Further Reading

The PEW Internet project has many other health-related studies. A selected few are:

More About the Author

Brad Einarsen

Brad is Klick's Senior Director leading the social practice. His group ensures that clients get the best bang for their buck on the social platforms.

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