Report: Chronically ill turning to internet for health information

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A growing number of people with chronic or serious illnesses are going online to research their health problems, according to a recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

About 51 percent of people with a disability or chronic illness use the internet, compared with 74 percent of the general population, but once those patients become acquainted with online resources, they become more frequent users, the study reported.

In fact, 86 percent of internet users with a disability or chronic illness have looked online for information about at least one of 17 health topics, compared with 79 percent of internet users with no chronic conditions, according to the study.

The study found that about three-quarters of e-patients said information they found online affected their treatment decision, and nearly 69 percent said information found online led them to ask their physicians new questions or get a second opinion. Yet, 67 percent of e-patients said they do not always check the source or date of online information, which is causing medical organizations to launch their own websites promoting credible health information.

This e-patient population is characterized by a comparatively greater portion of people age 50 and older.   

On the positive side, 71 percent of e-patients with chronic conditions said they felt reassured that they could make correct healthcare decisions during their last search for health information online, and 59 percent said they felt relieved or comforted by the information they found online. Other e-patients feel emboldened by the knowledge, as 56 percent said they felt confident to raise new questions or concerns about a health issue with their doctor.

The data was gathered through telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates, Aug. 1-31, 2006, among a sample of 2,928 adults, aged 18 and older. Also, online surveys were collected from 1,680 members of Association of Cancer Online Resources in November 2006.