Characteristics of online and offline health information seekers and factors that discriminate between them

Soc Sci Med. 2004 Nov;59(9):1795-806. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2004.02.020.


Increasing number of individuals are using the internet to meet their health information needs; however, little is known about the characteristics of online health information seekers and whether they differ from individuals who search for health information from offline sources. Researchers must examine the primary characteristics of online and offline health information seekers in order to better recognize their needs, highlight improvements that may be made in the arena of internet health information quality and availability, and understand factors that discriminate between those who seek online vs. offline health information. This study examines factors that differentiate between online and offline health information seekers in the United States. Data for this study are from a subsample (n = 385) of individuals from the 2000 General Social Survey. The subsample includes those respondents who were asked Internet and health seeking module questions. Similar to prior research, results of this study show that the majority of both online and offline health information seekers report reliance upon health care professionals as a source of health information. This study is unique in that the results illustrate that there are several key factors (age, income, and education) that discriminate between US online and offline health information seekers; this suggests that general "digital divide" characteristics influence where health information is sought. In addition to traditional digital divide factors, those who are healthier and happier are less likely to look exclusively offline for health information. Implications of these findings are discussed in terms of the digital divide and the patient-provider relationship.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Discriminant Analysis
  • Female
  • Health Education / methods*
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Information Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States