Healthcare Debate Rages Online

NEW YORK Just as the offline conversation about healthcare reform is growing in the U.S., we are watching the online discussion grow and evolve as well. In the past month, healthcare reform discussions have increased by more than 1,000 percent, outpacing the online talk surrounding swine flu and the government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program.

President Obama is keenly aware of the important role that bloggers play in sharing information about healthcare reform. On July 20, the president called for bloggers to help drum up support for his healthcare bill, causing another jump in online conversation in the days that followed. The White House has also been using Twitter to get the message out to the public. Of the 24 tweets that have been sent out in the last two weeks, 14 have been about healthcare reform.

Online discussion about healthcare reform — like offline discussion — is highly polarized. YouTube chronicles of recent protests at various public town hall meetings (which have been at the top of the list for most-cited videos in the last week) may have created an assumption that most citizens are strongly against the reform. However, in the past week there has been a slightly larger Web presence of those in support of reform, although the split is fairly narrow and is similar to other national polls on the topic. The bottom line is that the conversation is growing on both sides of the debate.

Much of the conversation centers around sharing the latest information on the healthcare reform debate, with both sides adding their own spin and attempting to debunk myths and misconceptions. The discussion is also highly charged, with some bloggers engaging in one-on-one arguments that degenerate to insults and name-calling. Some of these conversations are taking a very ugly turn, as we have seen them do in person as well.

While the healthcare reform conversation continues to grow on online political blogs and forums, it does not represent a significant share of conversations occurring on healthcare sites. Although patients may have the most at stake in healthcare reform, the conversations about this reform tend to be more political in nature and are less prominent in health forums and communities.

As the debate rages, consumers are increasingly turning to the official White House Web site to understand the key issues. In the last month, unique visitors to the healthcare pages of have increased 390 percent, from 41,000 unique visitors in June 2009 to 201,000 in July.

The administration has also established a site specifically dedicated to debunking the healthcare reform myths,

Melissa Davies is director of healthcare research at Nielsen Online.

Nielsen Business Media