Background: The internet has become an integral part of our everyday lives, affecting the way we work and communicate. It has also changed the way patients obtain health information. This study measures the extent to which general practice patients use the internet to obtain health information, particularly in relation to the problem(s) they bring to the general practitioner (GP), and whether this differs by patient age, sex, socioeconomic status, rurality and English-speaking background status (ESB).
Methods: This research was a sub-study of the Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health (BEACH) program (a continuous national study of general practice activity in Australia).
Results: Of 2944 patients, 63.4% accessed the internet in the previous month; 28.1% had sought health information online; and 17.1% had obtained information related to problems managed by the GP at that visit. Internet use and online health information seeking was inversely related to age for patients aged 15 years or older. The most socioeconomically advantaged patients were significantly more likely than the most disadvantaged to have obtained health information online. Patient sex, ESB status and rurality did not influence internet use or online health information seeking.