Impact of Internet Use on Health-Related Behaviors and the Patient-Physician Relationship: A Survey-Based Study and Review

Suzy A. Iverson, DO; Kristin B. Howard, BA; and Brian K. Penney, PhD
Notes and Affiliations
Notes and Affiliations

Received: November 9, 2006

Accepted: April 3, 2007

Published: December 1, 2008

J Osteopath Med; 108(12): 699-711

Context: Although patient use of online resources to locate health-related information is increasing, few large-scale studies investigating ramifications to patient health and the patient-physician relationship have been conducted in primary care or osteopathic medical settings.

Objectives: To describe online health information–seeking behaviors among patients. To evaluate the effects of this information on patient self-care and the patient-physician relationship.

Methods: A standardized eight-question survey regarding Internet use and healthcare was given to patients at three osteopathic primary care medical clinics. A review of the literature is also included.

Results: Of 154 patient responses received, 89 patients (58%) reported using the Internet to find health information. Slightly more than half of these individuals (49 [55%]) reported a change in the way they think about their health as a result of that information. In addition, most of these individuals (41 [46%]) reported making subsequent health-related behavioral changes. The largest segment of this population was aged 31 to 45 years (17 [57%]). They reported asking more questions during office visits (27 [66%]), following physician advice more closely (22 [54%]), and making self-directed dietary changes (22 [54%]). By and large, these patients informed their physicians of these changes (30 [73%]), especially as they believed physicians were willing to discuss the health information they obtained online (75 [84%]).

Conclusions: Although many concerns have been expressed about resulting changes in patient-physician dynamics, online information gathering has the potential to foster greater patient engagement in health maintenance and care.

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