Objectives: To investigate the patterns and predictors of individual online health information seeking, including socio-demographic characteristics, Internet activities and level of use, type of health information sought, and likelihood of sharing health information with physicians.
Data and Methods: Secondary data analysis from a cross-sectional survey of a representative national Canadian consumer sample in 2007 (n=26588). Bivariate and multivariate logistic regression analyses were performed to assess the relationships between Internet search for health information, sharing Internet health information with physicians, and the socio-demographic characteristics, Internet usage levels, and Internet activities of respondents.
Results: 61% of the Canadian population more than 16 years old had home Internet access, and 59% of these, or 36% of the population, sought health information via the Internet. Searching for health information was the second most popular online activity, following general Internet activities. Socio-demographic characteristics, Internet usage experience, privacy and security concerns, and Internet activities were significantly associated with health information search. Disease-specific information was the most frequently sought health information, followed by lifestyle information and disease symptoms. Women, individuals who had used the Internet for 2-5 years, and those who lived in megalopolises, were very concerned about Internet privacy and security. Individuals who used the Internet for other activities (general, government and online shopping) were more likely to discuss health information found on the Internet with their physicians.
This study reveals that income, rural/urban residency, and the number of persons in households were not significant determinants of Internet use for online health information searches by Canadians. Our study indicates a low level of communication between physicians and patients about health-related information found on the Internet. Strategies to increase Canadian access to the Internet for health information will likely help them to become better informed and active participants with their physicians on health related decisions.