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Digital Patient Experience, Engagement Split by Patient Demographics

Women, younger patients, and White and Asian patients are more likely to engage in an online patient experience than other demographics.

The digital patient experience is becoming more important than ever, with new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) figures showing that more than half of patients use the internet to find medical information, and four in 10 use the internet to communicate with doctors and look at test results.

As with anything in healthcare, there were health disparities at play, showing that women were more likely to seek health information on the internet, while White patients were more likely than their Hispanic and Black peers to look at digital lab results.

These findings come as healthcare continues its move into the digital realm. In addition to advances in telehealth and virtual care access, patients are using online spaces to learn more about their health, either by seeking out medical information, connecting with their providers or provider offices, or looking at their test results online.

Online Searches for Health Info Are Common

The CDC report, which used National Health Interview Survey data from between July and December of 2022, showed that more than half (58.5 percent) of patients look up medical information on the internet. This includes searching about symptoms or learning more about well-being or public health guidance.

Women were more likely than men to do this, with 63.3 percent and 53.5 percent reporting online medical queries, respectively.

Online search for medical information was also more common among younger patients, particularly those ages 30 to 44 (67.2 percent) and 18 to 29 (62.7 percent). It was less common among those over age 75, a third of whom said they’d used the internet to find medical information in the past 12 months.

Moreover, it was more common for White patients to look up health information online (63.4 percent) compared to Black people (49 percent) and Hispanic people (46.2 percent).

Women Most Likely to Message Online with Docs

The data also provided insights into digital patient-provider communication, such as secure direct messaging or online appointment scheduling. This is distinct from telehealth visits in which patients seek out treatment or care, the researchers clarified. Rather, they looked at the rate at which patients send messages to their providers or otherwise digitally communicate with their doctor’s office.

Around four in 10 patients are using the internet to communicate with their providers, the data showed, with women being more likely to do this than men (47.2 versus 35.6 percent).

Patients ages 30 to 44 were the most likely generation to use the internet to communicate with their providers, followed by those ages 45 to 64. Only about a quarter of the over-75 crowd reported using digital tools to communicate with their provider offices.

Meanwhile, White and Asian patients represented the most likely racial groups to digitally communicate with their provider offices, 45 and 42.3 percent of whom reported such, respectively. American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) people were the least likely to digitally message the provider office, with 30.5 percent reporting as much.

Digital Health Record, Lab Result Access Mirrors Demographic Trends

Like the data for online medical search and digital patient-provider communication, women, younger patients, and Asian and White patients were the most likely to use digital tools to look at their own medical information, like lab results.

While a total of 46.1 percent of patients, regardless of demographic, used the internet to look up their medical test results, it was far more common for women (52.2 percent), patients ages 30 to 44 (50.5 percent), and White and Asian patients (50.7 percent and 52.5 percent, respectively).

Meanwhile, only 29.8 percent of patients over age 75 and 27.1 percent of AI/AN patients used the internet to look at lab and test results.

These findings show a notable preference for women, younger patients, and White and Asian patients to use digital tools. Women, in particular, are often more likely to coordinate healthcare for the household, which could explain why they demonstrate greater digital patient engagement.

Conversely, there might be barriers to digital patient engagement for other demographics, like older people and racial and ethnic minorities. Limited access to broadband and other digital tools that enable online patient engagement, plus limited digital health literacy, could get in the way of digital health equity, although the CDC report did not explore the forces behind these disparities.

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