Study Finds Web Sites on Health Influence Care Decisions

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON (AP) -- When Elise Roelands wanted to find out why her husband had kidney stones and how he could avoid them, she searched health sites on the Internet rather than going to a doctor.

"I learned some of the new treatments, and I learned it wasn't as terrible as I thought," said the 26-year-old hospice volunteer from Silver Spring, Md., who valued the convenience of clicking on Web pages from home.

A new survey of Americans' use of the Internet shows that Roelands is hardly alone in her online quest for medical information. The survey, prepared by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, queried more than 12,000 people about their Internet habits in order to discover how the Internet has changed the way people make health decisions.

"There's tons of anecdotal evidence about this, but this is the first time that anyone's quantified it," said Lee Rainie, director of the project and a co-author of the survey.

Rainie said most of those searching for health information online were seeking material for someone else.

Of those surveyed, 92 percent said their online search was useful and 81 percent said they learned something new.

About 47 percent of those seeking help for themselves said the answers influenced their decisions about treatment, and 36 percent of people looking on behalf of others said the same.

But while several health-centric Web services -- such as WebMD and drkoop.com -- have emerged to provide answers to health questions, Rainie said most of the people surveyed had a "scattershot searching activity" that brought them to many sites.

"The vast majority of people are doing health searches on their own," without help from advertisements, doctors, friends or anyone else, Rainie said.

"They're going to search engines and just typing in words."

Rainie said information seekers most liked sites with broad search engines. …

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