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.