Chances are you search the Internet for information when you or your loved ones have worrisome symptoms or scary diagnoses. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you don't have faith in your doctor and other practitioners. If you're like the more than 500 people in a study done at the University of California, Davis, you simply want to be a pro-active member of your healthcare team. The researchers surveyed members of online support groups who had scheduled appointments with a physician. “We found that mistrust was not a significant predictor of people going online for health information prior to their visit,” said co-author Xinyi Hu, according to a release from the university. “This was somewhat surprising and suggests that doctors need not be defensive when their patients come to their appointments armed with information taken from the Internet.”
With co-authors at UC Davis and the University of Southern California, Hu examined how the subjects made use of support groups, other Internet resources, and offline sources of information, including traditional media and social relations, before their medical appointments. The study found no evidence that the users of online health information had less trust in their doctors than patients who did not seek information through the Internet.
Almost 70 percent of the study subjects reported they were planning to ask their doctors questions about the information they found on the web and about 40 percent said they had printed out information to take with them to discuss with their doctors. More than 50 percent of subjects said they intended to make at least one request of their doctor on the basis of Internet information.
“As a practicing physician, these results provide some degree of reassurance," said co-author Richard L. Kravitz, a UC Davis Health System professor of internal medicine and study co-author. "The results mean that patients are not turning to the Internet out of mistrust. More likely, Internet users are curious information seekers who are just trying to learn as much as they can before their visit.”
The study, “The Prepared Patient: Information Seeking of Online Support Group Members Before Their Medical Appointments,” was published in the Journal of Health Communication.