The internet user profile of Italian families of patients with rare diseases: a web survey

Orphanet J Rare Dis. 2013 May 16;8:76. doi: 10.1186/1750-1172-8-76.


Background: The use of the Internet for searching and sharing health information and for health care interactions may have a great potential for families of children affected with rare diseases. We conducted an online survey among Italian families of patients with rare diseases with the objective to describe their Internet user profile, and to explore how Internet use affects their health decisions.

Methods: All members of UNIAMIO FIMR, a federation of associations of patients with rare diseases, were invited via mail to participate in an online questionnaire including questions on socio-demographic and clinical information, Internet use with a specific focus on health, and impact of web information on health behaviors. Logistic regression models were used to explore the effect of socio-demographic variables and Internet user profile on dependent variables representing the impact of web information on health behaviors. Multiple imputation by chained equations was applied.

Results: A total of 516 parents of patients with rare diseases completed the online questionnaire. Mean age was 43 years. 87% of respondents accessed the Internet daily, 40% through their smartphones. 99% had an email account, 71% had a Facebook account. 66% participate in an online forum on health. 99% searched for information on disease characteristics, 93% on therapy, 89% on diagnosis, 63% on alternative therapies, 62% on nutrition and 54% on future pregnancies. 82% stated that web information increased comprehension of the disease, 65% that it improved management of the disease. For 52% web information increased his or her anxiety. 62% recognized diagnosis, 69% discussed online information with their physician. People participating in forums more frequently stated that Internet information was useful for recognizing their child's disease (OR 1.68; 95%CI 1.08-2.63) and for improving its management (OR 1.77; 95%CI 1.11-2.81).

Conclusion: Italian parents of patients with rare diseases are active Internet users, engaged in information search and in online communities.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • Middle Aged
  • Rare Diseases*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Telemedicine
  • Young Adult