Patients trust docs, but often use the internet
Mon Dec 12, 2005

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Patients in the United States are likely to first turn to the World Wide Web when seeking health information, even though they trust their physicians more to provide them with accurate medical information, results of a nationally representative survey suggest.

"The context in which patients consume health information has changed dramatically with diffusion of the Internet, advances in telemedicine, and changes in media health coverage," lead investigator Dr. Bradford W. Hesse and his associates point out in their report, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

To track these changes, Hesse, who is with the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, and his associates analyzed data obtained from the first Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS), administered by telephone to 6,369 adults between October 2002 and April 2003.

The results showed that 63.0 percent of respondents had ever used the Internet. Of these, 63.7 percent had looked there for some type of health or medical information. Other health-related Internet activities, such as purchasing medication, communicating with physicians, or participating in an online support group, were taken advantage of by less than 10 percent of users.

The authors report that 62.4 percent of respondents said that they trusted physicians "a lot" for cancer information, compared with 23.9 percent for the Internet.

When asked where they would prefer to go first for information about cancer, 49.5 percent reported wanting to go to their physicians. In actuality, only 10.9 percent of those who sought information about cancer reported having gone to the physician as the first source of information, whereas 48.6 percent went to the Internet first.

"Ongoing attention may be needed to adjust reimbursement policies for time spent with patients interpreting printouts, for accommodating shifts toward informed and shared decision making, for steering consumers to credible information sources, and for attending to the needs of those who fall through the cracks of the digital divide," Hesse's group suggests.

They intend to repeat the HINTS biennially, which "should serve as an important bellwether for dramatic changes in the national health information environment."

SOURCE: Archives of Internal Medicine, December 12/26, 2005.