November 20, 2012 at 11:00 AM EST
Twenty six percent of online adults discuss health information online; privacy cited as the biggest barrier to entry

Twenty six percent of U.S. online adults have discussed health information online in the past 12 months1 and 30 percent of those have changed a health behavior as a result. Leading experts agree that social media can help improve health and while non-users2 are citing privacy as their top barrier to engaging further, experts caution that those who discuss health information online should be more conscious of the accuracy of information received.

GE Healthcare recently commissioned an online survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, to gain more insight on whether or not social media, online communities, message boards and/or forums can encourage improved health behavior. At the same time, the company convened a panel of global experts through a virtual roundtable to discuss how social networking can best improve health. The results show that engagement is notable but there’s work to do to convert conversations into changes in behavior.

“We are just starting to tap into the power of social media and its ability to change health behaviors,” said Jeff DeMarrais, chief communications officer at GE Healthcare. “It will require a mix of smart tools, savvy consumers, pioneering health experts and education to continue changing conversations and behaviors. GE Healthcare has introduced several first-of-their-kind programs that do just this and there’s much opportunity ahead.”

Insights from Consumers

The survey of more than 2,100 U.S. online adults done in October 2012 provided clear insights into how social media can affect health behaviors.

  • Eighty two (82) percent of online adults have used social media in the past 12 months.
    • Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter topped the charts for most-used sites.
  • Twenty six (26) percent of online adults discussed health information online1.
  • Of those who discussed health information online1:
    • Thirty (30) percent had changed a health behavior as a result.
      • Many said to have changed their diet and/or fitness behavior while few stated quitting smoking or changing a behavior related to stress or serious illness management.
    • More than four in 10, 42 percent, used it to seek or post information about a current medical condition or find clinical trials on a specific condition.
    • Nearly 35 percent used it to get or give support from/to others for fitness or health goals.
    • Twenty nine (29) percent used it to friend/follow brands, companies, and/or organizations related to fitness, health, diet or specific medical conditions.
  • Of note was why users said they used social media/online communities/message boards/forums for health-related topics.
    • Nearly half, 49 percent, said it was because social media is a quick and easy way to get health information or recommendations.
    • Nearly as many, 47 percent, said it represents a good way to get different opinions from a wide range of people.

According to the survey, many online adults agreed that others knowing about their diet, health and fitness, and/or specific medical condition(s) is the top concern to discussing health information online1 (46 percent). Online adults cited trustworthiness (45 percent) and accuracy of information (44 percent) as top concerns, as well. During the GE Healthcare virtual roundtable on social networking in health, the panel of global experts stressed that accuracy of information should be even more top of mind for consumers. “Perhaps most worrying is the fact that the validity of the information [on the internet] is not a prerequisite for promoting the information,” said Dr. Bernie Hogan of the Oxford Internet Institute. Dr. Hogan participated in the recent GE Healthcare virtual roundtable.

The more social you are, the healthier you can be

According to Dr. Nate Cobb of the Georgetown University School of Medicine and Science Advisor to social health site MeYou Health, the more social you are, the more likely you are to achieve your health goals using social networking sites to support you. During GE Healthcare’s roundtable, Dr. Cobb explained, “Most of our data suggest that there is a relationship between how many connections you have within the site, and your ultimate outcomes, which is: the more social you are, essentially the more likely you are to stick with the product on a day-to-day basis and the more likely you are to report having completed a challenge,”

To learn more from the group of academic, physician and communications experts who participated in the virtual roundtable, click here: http://newsroom.gehealthcare.com/articles/how-can-social-networking-best-improve-health/.

Survey Methodology

This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of GE Healthcare from October 15-17, 2012 among 2,133 adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact Crystal Chuckel.

ABOUT GE HEALTHCARE

GE Healthcare provides transformational medical technologies and services that are shaping a new age of patient care. Our broad expertise in medical imaging and information technologies, medical diagnostics, patient monitoring systems, drug discovery, biopharmaceutical manufacturing technologies, performance improvement and performance solutions services help our customers to deliver better care to more people around the world at a lower cost. In addition, we partner with healthcare leaders, striving to leverage the global policy change necessary to implement a successful shift to sustainable healthcare systems.

Headquartered in the United Kingdom, GE Healthcare is an $18 billion unit of General Electric Company (NYSE: GE). Worldwide, GE Healthcare employs over 50,000 people committed to serving healthcare professionals and their patients in more than 100 countries. For more information about GE Healthcare, visit our website at www.gehealthcare.com.

1 “Discussed health information online” means discussed on social media/online communities/message boards/forums in the past 12 months.
2 “Non-user” means not at all/somewhat likely to use social media/online communities/message boards/forums to discuss health in the future.

Contacts:

GE Healthcare
Crystal Chuckel
262-548-4639 (office) | 262-309-2488 (mobile)
crystal.chuckel.@ge.com
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