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Health-Related Boomer Web Usage

By | December 4, 2012

As far as older people and Internet usage is concerned, the stereotype is that they are less frequent and savvy users than their youthful counterparts. For any ignorant marketers out there (healthcare or otherwise), let me destroy this common misconception … at least as it relates to boomers. In fact, as teens and young adults typically dominate broad usage categories (social media, video, mobile), boomers are occasionally right beside them for specific activities. In the case of healthcare information consumption, they are often ahead of them.

Start with the fact that 90% of boomers are online and 34% of boomers have a smartphone (via Pew, “Mobile Health 2012″). 19% of boomers use their phones to look for health or medical information online, which is a near-200% increase from 2 years ago (7%). 16% of boomer smartphone owners have software applications on their phone to track or manage health, also a near-200% increase from 2010 (6%).

Add to this recent Pew study a 2010 boomer healthcare consumer study from Google, Nielsen Online and Sterling that showed boomers seek health content in the digital space as actively as all other adults, both as patients and caregivers. Indeed, that study found they were 10% more likely than the average adult to have recalled using the Internet to research health in the previous 3 months. Overall, 57% of boomers were found to have searched for health and wellness information online.

The same study also indicated that TV can trigger online search in boomer healthcare consumers, to the tune of 78%. Even though this large percentage is derived from boomers who had already “used the Internet for health info within the last 12 months,” (in other words, a group predisposed to online health info searches), the symbolic bridge between offline and online is hard to ignore.

Regarding social media usage, we know that 51% of boomer Internet users, or 80 million, use social networking sites (2011), with 8% of them going so far as to follow a healthcare provider on social media today. Boomer social media usage increased 50% (PDF) from 2009–’11

Finally, not to generalize from my own personal experience, but the following example can be a helpful illustration. My dad is one of those boomers who is pretty tech-savvy. We have both gone to the same hospital for more than half a decade. He set up online access to his medical records and appointments through the hospital-sanctioned mobile app years before I did, and we both have had Internet-capable mobile devices for the same amount of time. Indeed, after finally setting up my account this year, I first mentioned to him how cool I thought it was to have so much interesting personal health data in there. Then I asked him if he’d used the app yet. His matter-of-fact response: “Oh, I’ve been using that for a while. It’s really neat. Your mom loves using hers, too.”

So, marketers (youthful or otherwise), don’t be fooled! As the previously cited studies point out, my boomer parents are not alone in their sophisticated adoption of the Web for personal health interests.

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Photo courtesy of WanderingSolesPhotography via Flickr.

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About Paul Richlovsky

Paul brings a writing and teaching background to his marketing career, where he's been happily active since 2006. After spending many years serving clients as a Web copywriter, he currently leads Fathom's internal content strategy in collaboration with the sales & marketing staff and many others. He also serves as editorial director of Fathom's website and blog and has written/edited multiple guides on digital marketing, including on the topics of healthcare, higher education and marketing automation. He previously was lead blogger and managing editor for YouShouldGoToSchool, a resource for individuals interested in career-focused education. With a BA in English from the College of Wooster, he is also the author of a collection of poetry, "Under the Lunar Neon." He is particularly interested in usability, readability, ballroom dancing (crazy about bachata), racquet sports, and romping with his niece/nephews.

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