Bathing and dressing someone who needs help, driving to doctor appointments, sorting through paperwork, making sure this pill is taken with breakfast and that pill at bedtime—these hands-on, caregiving activities define the word “offline.”
Yet, these days, caregivers are health information specialists. They have the safety, comfort, and even the life of a loved one in their hands. They are asked to perform a dizzying array of medical and personal tasks outside clinical settings and the stakes are very high. Caregivers display what we at the Pew Research Center have identified as a core social impact of the internet: the ability to quickly gather information on a complex topic to make decisions.
This national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, supported by the California HealthCare Foundation, finds that caregivers are highly likely to gather advice from clinicians, family, friends, and peers; to track their own and their loved ones’ health data; and to use the internet to research health conditions and treatments.
We find that being a caregiver is a special factor highly correlated with certain kinds of online information seeking. When controlling for age, income, education, ethnicity, and good overall health, caregivers are more likely than other internet users to:
- Gather health information online, particularly about medical problems, treatments, and drugs.
- Go online specifically to try to figure out what condition they or someone else might have.
- Consult online reviews about drugs and other treatments.
- Track their weight, diet, or exercise routine.
- Read online about someone else’s personal health experience.
- Go online to find others with similar health concerns.
An aging population and a rise in the percentage of people living with chronic conditions means that the United States will need to increasingly rely on family caregivers to provide front-line health care. This study presents evidence about how caregivers currently gather, share, and create health information and support.