FAQs regarding use of Internet in health care.- Pew Research report

26 Nov

The Pew Internet/Health FAQ |
Original post on

The lessons learnt from Pew internet research report on e-patients.

Susannah Fox is an Associate Director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project and principal author of the Project’s survey reports on e-patients and online health. Here, Susannah displays an almost naive view of a health consumer”s requirements and sounds arrogant at places, especially while talking of Privacy rights.

Read her <edited> views on Use of internet by e-patients.

  • Is a cultural shift affecting health care?

Yes. Thanks to the internet, people increasingly expect to have access to information. They increasingly expect to be able to comment on and easily share information. And it turns out that participation matters as much as access.

  • How do people judge the quality of health information online?

The best they can, but probably not the way you think they should. Most people’s first stop for health information is a general search site. Google dominates the search market. A British Medical Journal article found that Google is a pretty good diagnostician. Very few people report bad outcomes from their online health research.

  • Who’s in charge of vetting health information online? Shouldn’t we be concerned about this?

Nobody’s “in charge” and to some degree, yes. The base of the internet population is broadening to include people with less education and lower health literacy/numeracy. E-patients with a high school degree or less are more likely than better-educated e-patients to say they were confused by the health information they found online. But note that the two groups are equally likely (and more likely) to say they felt confident to raise new questions or concerns with their doctor, too. Also read-*Medical Library Association’s consumer guide  AND*Alicia White’s “Keep Calm and Carry On” advice for reading health news (PDF).

  • What are doctor’s attitudes?

I don’t know, but Manhattan Research and ThinkHealth do.

  • Are patients ready for this?

The Center for Studying Health System Change’s study measuring “patient activation” is one indicator. The central role of family caregivers is not addressed in the study, however. Another indicator is the relentless popularity of health information online. Lots and lots of people are looking up information on all kinds of health topics.

  • What about privacy?

Daniel Solove’s taxonomy of the word “privacyhas forever changed my thinking about the changing nature of personal information. In fact, I try to avoid using the word at all (instead: confidentiality, security, anonymity…)

Deven McGraw, Director of the Health Privacy Project at CDT, is a good source on health privacy regulations and enforcement. Jules Polonetsky, Director of the Future of Privacy Forum, is a more general source.

  • Does the internet cause cyberchondria?

Caution: “cyberchondria” is a loaded term. has hosted discussions of how to describe people who use the internet to gather health information. For example: Googlers vs. e-patients vs. cyberchondriacs.

  • What business opportunities are there in this field? What does the future hold?

I am watching the spread of wireless internet use very closely. Wireless access has a significant, independent effect on how someone uses the internet and it’s the trend I am most excited about tracking over the next year or so.

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Posted by on November 26, 2009 in Google, Research


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