Academic journal article Australian Health Review

The Internet as a Source of Health Information in Three Disparate Communities

Academic journal article Australian Health Review

The Internet as a Source of Health Information in Three Disparate Communities

Article excerpt

Abstract

A survey questionnaire was designed and implemented across three different communities to determine the current utilisation, importance, trust and future preference for the internet as a source of health information in three different socioeconomic groups. The following were the key results. Fewer respondents in the low socioeconomic group accessed online health information than the mid-high socioeconomic or university samples. The internet was a much more important source of health information for the university sample. The use of online health information and the importance ascribed to the internet as a source of health information was related to home internet access and the frequency of internet use in all three populations. Most respondents do not bring online health information to their doctor (>70% of those who access online health information). Age alone did not relate to the current use of the internet as a source of health information. Most respondents in all populations did not trust the internet. In all populations the internet was a more preferred source of health information than its current use would suggest, especially among those with home internet access and frequent users of the internet.

Aust Health Rev 2008: 32(3): 559-569

What Is known about the topic?

Little Australian research exists on the use of the internet versus other sources of health information according to socioeconomic status and how these population groups differ in their utilisation of the internet as a source of health information.

What does this paper add?

Through a survey this paper explored the use of the internet for health information by three population groups. The results demonstrated that the internet was a less prominent source of health information for the lower socioeconomic population.

What are the Implications for practitioners?

Given that many people are accessing online health information it is imperative that a means of facilitating mediated access to accurate, verifiable online health information is developed and adapted to the different needs of the user communities.

PREVIOUS RESEARCH INTO the use of the internet as a source of health information has relied heavily on online survey methodologies and phone polls which often utlilise respondents identified as internet users by previous online surveys.1-4 The generalisability of these results is questionable. Likewise, little Australian research exists on the use of the internet versus other sources of health information according to socioeconomic status and how these population groups differ in their utilisation of the internet as a source of health information. Bessell et al5 examined the use of the internet as a source of health information in South Australia as part of the South Australian Health Omnibus survey and concluded that poorer and older Australians may be unable to access online health information. Murphy et al6,7 analysed the use of health information sources, including the internet, among female health information seekers. This research sought to determine how the utilisation of the internet as a source of health information differed across three comparison populations distinguished by varying levels of income, education and internet utilisation. A low as well as a mid-tohigh socioeconomic sample were selected on the basis of the Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas indices produced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS),8 while a university sample was selected to provide a young and educated comparator community (for further detail see the related earlier article9). This paper also discusses the role of respondent characteristics such as home internet access and frequency of internet use.

The research questions posed by this survey sought to determine a number of features of the utilisation of the internet as a source of health information:

1. Who accesses health information over the internet? …

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