Background: Internet resources are becoming increasingly important for patients seeking medical knowledge. It is imperative to understand patient use and preferences for using the Internet and social networking websites to optimize patient education.
Objectives: The purpose of this study was to evaluate social networking and Internet use among women with pelvic floor complaints to seek information for their conditions as well as describe the likelihood, preferences, and predictors of website usage.
Study design: This was a cross-sectional, multicenter study of women presenting to clinical practices of 10 female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery fellowship programs across the United States, affiliated with the Fellows' Pelvic Research Network. New female patients presenting with pelvic floor complaints, including urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, and fecal incontinence were eligible. Participants completed a 24 item questionnaire designed by the authors to assess demographic information, general Internet use, preferences regarding social networking websites, referral patterns, and resources utilized to learn about their pelvic floor complaints. Internet use was quantified as high (≥4 times/wk), moderate (2-3 times/wk), or minimal (≤1 time/wk). Means were used for normally distributed data and medians for data not meeting this assumption. Fisher's exact and χ2 tests were used to evaluate the associations between variables and Internet use.
Results: A total of 282 surveys were analyzed. The majority of participants, 83.3%, were white. The mean age was 55.8 years old. Referrals to urogynecology practices were most frequently from obstetrician/gynecologists (39.9%) and primary care providers (27.8%). Subjects were well distributed geographically, with the largest representation from the South (38.0%). Almost one third (29.9%) were most bothered by prolapse complaints, 22.0% by urgency urinary incontinence, 20.9% by stress urinary incontinence, 14.9% by urgency/frequency symptoms, and 4.1% by fecal incontinence. The majority, 75.0%, described high Internet use, whereas 8.5% moderately and 4.8% minimally used the Internet. Women most often used the Internet for personal motivations including medical research (76.4%), and 42.6% reported Google to be their primary search engine. Despite this, only 4.9% primarily used the Internet to learn about their pelvic floor condition, more commonly consulting an obstetrician-gynecologist for this information (39.4%). The majority (74.1%) held a social networking account, and 45.9% visited these daily. Nearly half, 41.7%, expressed the desire to use social networking websites to learn about their condition. Women <65 years old were significantly more likely to have high Internet use (83.4% vs 68.8%, P = .018) and to desire using social networking websites to learn about their pelvic floor complaint (P = .008). The presenting complaint was not associated with Internet use (P = .905) or the desire to use social networking websites to learn about pelvic floor disorders (P = .201).
Conclusion: Women presenting to urogynecology practices have high Internet use and a desire to learn about their conditions via social networking websites. Despite this, obstetrician-gynecologists remain a common resource for information. Nonetheless, urogynecology practices and national organizations would likely benefit from increasing their Internet resources for patient education in pelvic floor disorders, though patients should be made aware of available resources.
Keywords: Internet; patient preferences; pelvic floor; social media; social networking; survey; urogynecology.
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