The Wolters Kluwer Health survey interviewed 1,002 consumers and found that 57% of respondents turn to the Internet for information that answers their personal medical questions.
The survey also showed a high level of trust among consumers who seek medical information online. Among the 31% who said they always or frequently search online for medical information, 65% said they trust the information, and 63% claim to have never misdiagnosed themselves when using online medical information resources.
A breakdown of the numbers reveal that 11% of consumers said they "always" use online resources to answer their medical questions, while 20% said they "frequently" do so, and 26% said they "sometimes" go online to address their medical queries. Others aren't as enthralled with the idea, as 18% said they "rarely" and 25% said they "never" turn to the Internet to find answers to medical questions.
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In an interview, Linda Peitzman, chief medical officer at Wolters Kluwer Health, said the two most important findings in the study are the degree of trust that consumers have in online health information, and the extent to which the consumers feel that easier access to online medical information has made them better informed patients, which helps them discuss their health matters with a doctor.
The poll, which is the first in a series of quarterly surveys, examined the perceptions and practices of using online resources and information to answer medical questions, and also explored consumer self-diagnosis habits. Telephone interviews with consumers were conducted between March 9 and 12.
"We asked specifically about searching the Internet for answers to medical questions, as we were looking at habits around online self-diagnosis," Peitzman said.
Searching the Internet also affects consumers' relationships with their doctors. The poll showed that 77% who use the Internet to diagnose an illness say they follow up with a doctor to verify that diagnosis. Almost half (48%) of respondents said they rely on the Internet to be informed before a doctor's visit. Almost a quarter of consumers believe the Internet offers more opinions and options than a single healthcare provider.
Age is also a factor in researching medical information online, the study showed. Only 35% of consumers ages 18 to 35 said they would never rely on the Internet to diagnose or treat an illness, while 51% of those ages 55 and older said the same.
Easy access to technology also affected the results, with 38% of respondents between the ages of 18 and 34 citing accessibility as a reason why they go on the Internet first for medical information. For those over 55 years of age, only 23% cited accessibility as a reason to go online for medication information.
Technology adoption, including access to the Internet, has been slow among older Americans, according to a study published earlier this year by Linkage, which is comprised of more than 460 senior living communities in 16 states. The Linkage study, which interviewed 1,789 patients between the ages of 65 to 100, found that 33% of respondents said they have Internet access. Furthermore, only 3% said they own a smartphone, 3% said they own a tablet, and 8% said they have a laptop.
Wolters Kluwer also interviewed 300 physicians for its Health Point-of-Care survey. That survey revealed that nearly nine in 10 physicians feel that improved access to online medical information and resources has improved the quality of care at their practices. Only 12% of physicians believe patients' use of online medical information has impeded the quality of care they provide. Additionally, 63% of physicians report having changed an initial diagnosis based on new information accessed via online resources or support tools.
Physicians, who were interviewed in August 2011, were nearly evenly split between primary care physicians and specialists.
"The findings from both groups [patients and physicians] illustrate the critical importance of having access to quality information from trusted online sources," Peitzman said.
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