Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 180–185 | Cite as

Patients’ use of the internet for medical information

  • Joseph A. DiazEmail author
  • Rebecca A. Griffith
  • James J. Ng
  • Steven E. Reinert
  • Peter D. Friedmann
  • Anne W. Moulton
Original Articles


OBJECTIVES: To determine the percentage of patients enrolled in a primary care practice who use the Internet for health information, to describe the types of information sought, to evaluate patients’ perceptions of the quality of this information, and to determine if patients who use the Internet for health information discuss this with their doctors.

DESIGN: Self-administered mailed survey.

SETTING: Patients from a primary care internal medicine private practice.

PARTICIPANTS: Randomly selected patients (N=1,000) were mailed a confidential survey between December 1999 and March 2000. The response rate was 56.2%.

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Of the 512 patients who returned the survey, 53.5% (274) stated that they used the Internet for medical information. Those using the Internet for medical information were more educated (P<.001) and had higher incomes (P<.001). Respondents used the Internet for information on a broad range of medical topics. Sixty percent felt that the information on the Internet was the “same as” or “better than” information from their doctors. Of those using the Internet for health information, 59% did not discuss this information with their doctor. Neither gender, education level, nor age less than 60 years was associated with patients sharing their Web searches with their physicians. However, patients who discussed this information with their doctors rated the quality of information higher than those who did not share this information with their providers.

CONCLUSIONS: Primary care providers should recognize that patients are using the World Wide Web as a source of medical and health information and should be prepared to offer suggestions for Web-based health resources and to assist patients in evaluating the quality of medical information available on the Internet.

Key words

Internet primary care health information 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Pew Internet and American Life Project. The online health care revolution: how the Web helps Americans take better care of themselves. Available at Accessed January 17, 2001.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Cyberatlas. The mess known as online healthcare.,1323,5971_379231,00.html. Accessed June 18, 2000.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Eysenbach G, Sa ER, Diepgen TL. Shopping around the Internet today and tomorrow: towards the millennium of cybermedicine. BMJ. 1999;319: Available at: Accessed May 28, 2000.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Eysenbach G, Diepgen TL. Patients looking for information on the Internet and seeking teleadvice: motivation, expectations, and misconceptions as expressed in e-mails sent to physicians. Arch Dermatol. 1999;135:151–6.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Mandl K, Feit S, Pena B, Kohane I. Growth and determinants of access in patient e-mail and Internet use. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2000;5:508–11.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    O’Connor JB, Johanson JF. Use of the Web for medical information by a gastroenterology clinic population. JAMA. 2000;284:1962–4.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Taylor MRG, Alman A, Manchester DK. Use of the Internet by patients and their families to obtain genetics-related information. Mayo Clin Proc. 2001;76:772–6.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8. Accessed August 25, 2000.Google Scholar
  9. 9. Accessed August 25, 2000.Google Scholar
  10. 10. Accessed August 25, 2000.Google Scholar
  11. 11. Accessed August 25, 2000.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Pandolfini C, Impicciatore P, Bonati M. Parents on the web: risks for quality management of cough in children. Pediatrics. 2000 Jan;105(1):e1.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Sacchetti P, Zvara P, Plante MK. The Internet and patient education resources and their reliability: focus on a select urologic topic. Urology. 1999;53:1117–20.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Impicciatore P, Pandolfini C, Casella N, Bonati M. Reliability of health information for the public on the World Wide Web: systematic survey of advice on managing fever in children at home. BMJ. 1997;314:1875–9.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Biermann JS, Golladay GJ, Greenfield ML, Baker LH. Evaluation of cancer information on the Internet. Cancer. 1999;86:381–90.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Ayonrinde O. Patients in cyberspace: information or confusion? Postgrad Med J. 1998;74:449–50.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Lindberg DA, Humphreys BL. Medicine and health on the Internet: the good, the bad, and the ugly. JAMA. 1998;280:1303–4.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Berland GK, Elliott MN, Morales LS, et al. Health information on the Internet: accessibility, quality, and readability in English and Spanish. JAMA. 2001;285:2612–21.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Silberg WM, Lundberg GD, Musacchio RA. Assessing, controlling and assuring the quality of medical information on the Internet: Caveant lector et viewor—Let the reader and viewer beware. JAMA. 1997;277:1244–5.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Winker MA, Flanagin A, Chi-Lum B, et al. Guidelines for medical and health information sites on the Internet: principles governing AMA web sites. JAMA. 2000;283:1600–6.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Health on the Net Foundation—HON code of conduct. (HONcode) for medical and health Web sites. Available at: Accessed May 20, 2000.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Kim P, Eng TR, Deering MJ, Maxfield A. Published criteria for evaluating health-related web sites: review. BMJ. 1999;318:647–9.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Shepperd S, Charnock D, Gann B. Helping patients access high quality health information. BMJ. 1999;319:764–6.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Jones J. Development of a self-assessment method for patients to evaluate health information on the Internet. Proc AMIA Symp. 1999:540–4.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Jadad AR, Gagliardi A. Rating health information on the Internet: navigating to knowledge or to Babel? JAMA. 1998;279:611–4.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26. Accessed February 26, 2001.Google Scholar
  27. 27. Accessed February 26, 2001.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Bader SA, Braude RM. “Patient informatics”: creating new partnerships in medical decision making. Acad Med. 1998;73:408–11.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph A. Diaz
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rebecca A. Griffith
    • 2
  • James J. Ng
    • 3
  • Steven E. Reinert
    • 4
  • Peter D. Friedmann
    • 5
  • Anne W. Moulton
    • 5
  1. 1.the Division of General Internal MedicineMemorial Hospital of Rhode Island, Brown University School of MedicinePawtucket
  2. 2.Morristown Memorial HospitalMorristown
  3. 3.The Vancouver ClinicVancouver
  4. 4.Lifespan Medical ComputingRhode Island HospitalProvidence
  5. 5.the Division of General Internal Medicine, Rhode Island HospitalBrown University School of MedicineProvidence

Personalised recommendations