Consumers Flocking to Internet for Health Information
Using the Internet for health information is "becoming the rule rather than the exception" for consumers, as more than 40 million Americans now search for such information online, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Patients who "become informed and involved in their medical care consistently do better than those who sit back and simply follow doctors' orders," the Chronicle reports. Consumers have a variety of options from commercial sites to sites run by the government, such as the National Library of Medicine's Medline and Medlineplus databases, the NIH site for clinical trials and Healthfinder. Sam Karp, CIO of the California HealthCare Foundation, said, "Doctors say that, more and more, patients are bringing information from the Internet with them. They find the quality of information is mixed, but it does allow them to have more in-depth conversations with their patients."
However, at the same time, the state of the Internet is in "flux," as commercial sites struggle to make a profit. For example, HealthCentral recently downsized, WebMD and OnHealthhave merged and drkoop.com's demise is "widely expected," the Chronicle reports. Karp added, "Health care information sites seem to have a business model with the shelf life of dairy products. We're at a very early stage yet, figuring out what things will look like long term." In addition, consumers have raised concerns about their privacy. According to a CHCF-commissioned study of 21 health sites, many sites violated their own posted privacy polices, and some allowed advertisers to access information to build profiles on visitors' Internet habits and health conditions. Still, the Chronicle reports that the future of online health information is "bright," mostly because of patients' interest in obtaining information and communicating with their care providers online. Karp said, "I think it's a very, very exciting time in terms of what the Internet offers for health care" (Torassa, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/25).