Background: The context in which patients consume health information has changed dramatically with diffusion of the Internet, advances in telemedicine, and changes in media health coverage. The objective of this study was to provide nationally representative estimates for health-related uses of the Internet, level of trust in health information sources, and preferences for cancer information sources.
Methods: Data from the Health Information National Trends Survey were used. A total of 6369 persons 18 years or older were studied. The main outcome measures were online health activities, levels of trust, and source preference.
Results: Analyses indicated that 63.0% (95% confidence interval [CI], 61.7%-64.3%) of the US adult population in 2003 reported ever going online, with 63.7% (95% CI, 61.7%-65.8%) of the online population having looked for health information for themselves or others at least once in the previous 12 months. Despite newly available communication channels, physicians remained the most highly trusted information source to patients, with 62.4% (95% CI, 60.8%-64.0%) of adults expressing a lot of trust in their physicians. When asked where they preferred going for specific health information, 49.5% (95% CI, 48.1%-50.8%) reported wanting to go to their physicians first. When asked where they actually went, 48.6% (95% CI, 46.1%-51.0%) reported going online first, with only 10.9% (95% CI, 9.5%-12.3%) going to their physicians first.
Conclusion: The Health Information National Trends Survey data portray a tectonic shift in the ways in which patients consume health and medical information, with more patients looking for information online before talking with their physicians.