Healthcare News & Insights

Where next generation of consumers is getting its health info

To keep up with the evolution of health care, leaders will need to understand how the next generation of consumers make health decisions — and a new study is giving providers some insight. 

Boy in bedroom using laptop and listening to MP3 player

Boy in bedroom using laptop and listening to MP3 player

Understanding how young patients and consumers learn about and make decisions about their care is an important part of meeting new value and quality standards.

Why?

Because getting people involved with their health while their still young and forming healthy habits can improve their health in the long-run, and prevent costly chronic conditions or other issues down the road.

Turning to the Internet

A new study by researchers at Northwestern University shows how teens educate themselves about health issues, and how that research impacts their day-to-day health.

The University surveyed 1,156 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18, asking them about what health topics they were worried about, how they used online tools, which online sources they used and whether those tools impacted their behaviors.

It should come as no surprise that 84% of teenagers surveyed said they turned to the Internet for health information, usually to supplement information from their parents.

The subjects they searched for most often included:

  • fitness and exercise (42% of searches)
  • diet and nutrition (36% of searches)
  • stress and anxiety (19% of searches)
  • sexually transmitted diseases (18% of searches)
  • puberty (18% of searches), and
  • depression and other mental health issues (16% of searches).

About 23% said they’d researched conditions affecting relatives or friends. In general, teens from lower-income families were more likely to search for information related to a friend’s or family member’s health.

Additionally, about 29% of surveyed teens said they’d downloaded a mobile health app, but nearly half said they rarely or never used them.

Searching for credible info

What may be a pleasant surprise for providers is that about a third of those surveyed said they switched to healthier behaviors because of what they found.

As a result of their research and app usage, about one-third of teenagers reported changing their habits by doing things like drinking less soda, using exercise to address depression and trying healthier recipes at home.

However, the issue researchers found was teens lacked digital health literacy skills. Most of the teens surveyed said they only looked at the first few hits on their searches, and often had trouble understanding the information or identifying which sources had credible information versus which were advertisements or misleading.

As the research shows, teens are interested in their own health, but may need guidance for finding reliable, accurate information. This gives leaders a chance to reach out and fill those information gaps, especially in poorer communities where younger family members may have larger roles in caring for sick or elderly relatives.

Facilities focusing on population health and community outreach may want to consider creating information resources specifically for teens, or find ways to offer guidance about how to spot good information from other sources.

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