Patients Often Use ‘Suboptimal’ Techniques to Search for Health Information Online, Study Finds
Patients often use "suboptimal" techniques when they search for health information online, but most successfully find answers to their questions, according to a new study published in the March 9 issue of the British Medical Journal. The study also found that patients often do not assess the quality of health information they find on the Internet. In the study, researchers from the University of Heidelberg in Germany examined the search techniques of 17 patients asked to find answers online to questions from an "ask the doctor" Internet service. Patients on average answered 129 of the 136 questions and spent less than six minutes per question. In addition, the study found that patients did not find "gross misinformation" in the health information that they retrieved from the Internet. However, the study found that many patients used inefficient search techniques. Patients often selected one of the first sites listed by search engines and did not examine additional results returned by search engines, the study found. The study also found that patients often did not search for information on the sponsors of Web sites, disclaimers or disclosure statements. In addition, few patients "noticed and remembered which Web sites they had retrieved information from." However, according to researchers, patients in the study may have "felt time pressure" and placed "less emphasis" on the quality of information. They also said that patients may search more actively for "markers of quality" in a "real-life setting" where they have a "greater stake in the outcome." The study concluded, "Further studies are needed to design and evaluate educational and technological innovations for guiding consumers to quality health information on the Web" (Eysenbach/Kohler, British Medical Journal 3/9). The study is available online. Note: You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the study.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.