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Healthcare // Patient Tools

Doctors Still Trump Internet For Medical Advice

Women prefer medical professionals over online chat sites for discussing private health matters, a study shows.

In the age of Oprah and the Internet, where women can go online and anonymously discuss their private health issues via the World Wide Web, a majority of women still have a higher comfort level with their doctors than with an online community, a study finds.

The online survey, conducted in February by market research firm Harris Interactive on behalf of iVillage, a Web site for women, received 2,618 responses, of which 1,342 participants were women and 310 are mothers of teenagers or younger children.

The survey noted that, "Overall, online women are more comfortable discussing private health concerns or questions that are potentially embarrassing with a medical professional than they are with an online community, their spouse or partner, a close friend, and a family member."

The results also showed that 38% of online women are extremely or somewhat comfortable discussing these types of issues with an online community and 11% are extremely comfortable with it. By comparison, 65% are extremely or somewhat comfortable discussing these issues with a family member; 70% say the same about a close friend, spouse, or partner; and 80% say the same about a medical professional.

Nevertheless, women do see the benefits of online discussions about their health. For example, 65% of online women think there are benefits to discussing health concerns or questions via an online community, chief among them was privacy. A total of 43% of online women felt that the fact that their questions and concerns could be anonymous was an advantage, and 40% said that being able to discuss things with and get advice from someone who had a similar experience is a benefit. A third of online women said being able to learn more and get more information is beneficial and another 30% said online sites can better prepare them for a doctor's visit.

"We do not in any sense believe that the Internet replaces doctors. We didn't find that people are going online instead of going to their doctor," said Jennifer Barrett, health editor for iVillage. "What we find is that people go online to help prepare them for their doctor visits so that they have the information they need and they know what questions to ask," Barrett said.

With regard to finding information online, 49% of all online women said the very first place they would go to research a health question is online. That number spikes higher among women between the ages of 18-34; 53% of these younger women say they go online first to research a health question.

"If you get a diagnosis and it sounds scary and you don't know what to expect, I think it's natural, particularly for women, to seek out other people who have gone through that experience," Barrett said.

An additional advantage, 29% of online women said, is the fact that they could discuss things with and get advice from several people at once. Another 25% of online women said there is a benefit to talking about things that they are embarrassed or ashamed to discuss with people they know and they can get their question answered quickly online.

With regard to gender differences, 78% of online married women indicated that they are more likely than their spouse to research health issues affecting their family members. Additionally, 80% of online married moms said they are more likely than their spouse to research health issues that affect their family members.

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