Introduction: The World Wide Web is being used increasingly as a resource for accessing health-related information. In our study, we identified types of health-related Web sites visited most often, determined how often patients shared Web-accessed health information with their doctors, and examined factors that encouraged Internet use for locating health-related information. We also compared health-related Internet use among people who did not have any type of chronic disease with people who reported having one or more chronic diseases.
Methods: We merged data from the 2002 and 2003 HealthStyles surveys to generate frequency and descriptive statistics and used multivariate logistic regression to estimate odds ratios.
Results: Approximately 35% of survey participants reported using the Internet to search for health-related information. Among them, the Web sites visited most often included health information portals, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations. About 53% reported that they "sometimes" shared Internet information with their doctors. The most important features of the Internet that would encourage its use for health information were ease of finding and using the information and clarity of the information provided. Internet use differed by sex and age and was strongly associated with income and education. Respondents who reported having a chronic disease (odds ratio [OR] = 1.30; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.16-1.45) were more likely to use the Internet to access health-related information, especially among those with depression (OR = 1.47; 95% CI, 1.27-1.71) and high cholesterol (OR = 1.18; 95% CI, 1.02-1.37). In addition, respondents who reported having two or more chronic diseases (OR = 1.35; 95% CI, 1.16-1.56) were more likely to search for online health information than respondents who reported having no chronic disease.
Conclusion: Public health professionals have a unique opportunity to use the Internet as a tool to complement and supplement the health information that the public receives from health care professionals.