Are e-health web users looking for different symptom information than callers to triage centers?

Telemed J E Health. 2011 Jan-Feb;17(1):19-24. doi: 10.1089/tmj.2010.0120. Epub 2011 Jan 7.


Introduction: Telemedicine options for symptom assessment include both telephonic means (call centers) and Internet sites. Although symptom assessment call centers have been available for decades, symptom assessment over the Internet is relatively new. It is not well known what types of symptoms Internet users are seeking assessment for and whether extant telephone triage algorithms would be applicable to Internet users.

Methods: Symptom assessments on a heavily used Internet site ( were compared with symptom calls to a U.S. call center (Ask Mayo Clinic).

Results: Internet users sought symptom assessments about adult symptoms 13 times more often than children's symptoms. In contrast, over the telephone, adult symptoms were addressed 2.1 times more frequently than children's symptoms. Despite the differences in frequencies of adult and child symptom assessments, users of the Internet and telephone callers asked about specific symptoms with similar relative frequencies. Analysis of 20 adult symptom types shared by the Web and call center revealed that by excluding only 2 assessments (nasal symptoms and leg pain) the remaining 18 showed a significant correlation in counts of use (r(2) = 0.68, p < 0.001 for linear trend).

Conclusions: Internet users have symptoms assessed in similar proportions to callers, with a few exceptions. Compared with callers, Web users are much more likely looking for information about adult symptoms. Callers are proportionally asking more about acute symptoms, whereas Internet users appear more interested in symptom assessment of chronic conditions.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Algorithms
  • Female
  • Health Education / methods*
  • Health Education / organization & administration
  • Health Education / statistics & numerical data
  • Hotlines / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination / methods*
  • Internet / organization & administration
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Minnesota
  • Nose Diseases / diagnosis
  • Nose Diseases / pathology
  • Pain
  • Patient Education as Topic / methods*
  • Patient Education as Topic / statistics & numerical data
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Triage / methods*
  • Triage / organization & administration
  • Triage / statistics & numerical data
  • United States
  • Young Adult