Patients turn to Internet first, even though they trust docs most

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Patients in the U.S. are likely to turn to the Internet first when seeking health info, even though they trust their physicians more to provide them with accurate medical information, according to the results of a nationally representative survey published in Archives of Internal Medicine this week.
"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 Hesse and his associates wrote in the report.
To track the changes, Hesse, who is with the National Cancer Institute, studied data obtained from the first Health Information National Trends (HINTS) administered by telephone to 6,369 adults between October 2002 and April 2003.
Analyses indicated that 63% of the U.S. adult population in 2003 reported ever going online, with 63.7% of the online population having looked for health information for themselves or others at least once in the previous 12 months.
Despite newly available communications channels, physicians remained the most highly trusted information source to patients, with 62.4% of adults expressing "a lot of trust" in their physicians.
When asked where they preferred going for specific health information, 49.5% reported wanting to go to their physicians first. When asked where they actually went, 48.6% reported going online first, with only 10.9% going to their physicians 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 suggested.
Hesse's group intends to repeat the HINTS biennially, which "should serve as an important bellwether for dramatic changes in the national health information environment," the group wrote.


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