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People with significant health needs or barriers to care access are more likely to use the Internet for health information

A growing number of consumers are turning to the Internet to obtain information about health and health care. According to a study supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS11668), individuals with chronic health conditions are more likely to use the Internet to search for health information and to communicate with others about health and health care. The uninsured, especially those with chronic conditions, are also more likely than their privately insured counterparts to use the Internet to search for information. Finally, individuals with longer travel times to their usual source of care are more likely to use the Internet for health-related communication with their provider, family, friends, and other patients than those with shorter travel times.

Thus, the cost associated with the time needed to visit providers in traditional settings affects demand for health information on the Internet, primarily in the form of communication with others. The costs of accessing information from providers include out-of-pocket payments for consultations as well as the time spent seeking care. The costs of accessing information on the Internet include the costs of Internet access, the time spent searching for information, and the risks of obtaining faulty information.

If the costs of obtaining information from the Internet continue to decline and the costs of accessing providers remain constant, the resulting cost differentials will drive increasing Internet use. For providers, this suggests that Internet-based resources are likely to become an increasingly important tool to reach patients, particularly those for whom the expected benefits are high. These include patients with significant health care needs and those in remote areas, note the researchers. Their findings were based on a survey of 12,878 persons from a random sample of Internet-enabled households.

See "Who searches the Internet for health information?" by M. Kate Bundorf, Ph.D., M.B.A., M.P.H., Todd H. Wagner, Ph.D., Sara Jean Singer, M.B.A., and Laurence C. Baker, Ph.D. in the June 2006 HSR: Health Services Research 41(3), pp. 819-836.

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