User-generated online health content: a survey of Internet users in the United Kingdom.
O'Neill B., Ziebland S., Valderas J., Lupiáñez-Villanueva F.
BACKGROUND: The production of health information has begun to shift from commercial organizations to health care users themselves. People increasingly go online to share their own health and illness experiences and to access information others have posted, but this behavior has not been investigated at a population level in the United Kingdom. OBJECTIVE: This study aims to explore access and production of user-generated health content among UK Internet users and to investigate relationships between frequency of use and other variables. METHODS: We undertook an online survey of 1000 UK Internet users. Descriptive and multivariate statistical analyses were used to interpret the data. RESULTS: Nearly one-quarter of respondents (23.7%, 237/1000) reported accessing and sharing user-generated health content online, whereas more than 20% (22.2%, 222/1000) were unaware that it was possible to do this. Respondents could be divided into 3 groups based on frequency of use: rare users (78.7%, 612/778) who accessed and shared content less than weekly, users (13.9%, 108/778) who did so weekly, and superusers (7.5%, 58/778) who did so on a daily basis. Superusers were more likely to be male (P<.001) and to be employed (P<.001), but there were no differences between the groups with respect to educational level (P=.99) or health status (P=.63). They were more likely to use the Internet for varied purposes such as banking and shopping (P<.001). CONCLUSIONS: Although this study found reasonably widespread access of user-generated online health content, only a minority of respondents reported doing so frequently. As this type of content proliferates, superusers are likely to shape the health information that others access. Further research should assess the effect of user-generated online content on health outcomes and use of health services by Internet users.