More MS news articles for June 2002

Health Website Users Find Information Credible, but Want Content Regulated

Jun 13, 2002
By Alicia Ault
NEW YORK (Reuters Health)

A slight majority of Internet users in four countries believes that health information on the web is trustworthy, easy to understand, and of good quality, but that the government should regulate online content, according to a recent poll by Harris Interactive.

The market research company surveyed Internet users who seek health information--dubbed "cyberchondriacs" by Harris--in the US, France, Germany and Japan to determine why they go online, where they visit, if they are satisfied with the information they get, and how it affects decisions they make about their health.

According to Harris, there are 110 million cyberchondriacs in America, 48 million in Japan, 31 million in Germany, and 14 million in France. The survey data is based primarily on responses from 309 American, 327 French, 407 German, and 275 Japanese cyberchondriacs.

Surfers mostly are searching for information on specific medical conditions, said the polling company.

Ninety-three percent of American and French Internet users said health information on the web is trustworthy. The figures were slightly lower for Japan at 80%, and Germany at 71%.

Only 60% of French users and 59% of Japanese users said the information was of good quality.

In the US, visitors frequent medical journal sites, commercial health pages, and academic or research institution sites. A third of visits are to drug company, medical society, patient support group, and news media sites. In France and Germany, most visits are concentrated on commercial and academic or research center sites, with only 18% of French visits and 27% of German visits made to drug company sites.

Harris did not verify the accuracy of information on any site, but it is important that so many believed in what they viewed, said Humphrey Taylor, chairman of the Harris Poll. "If people believe this information is reliable and trustworthy, they are more likely to use it," he told Reuters Health.

In the US, that translates into talking to a physician, making appointments, asking for prescription drugs by name, or taking an over-the-counter remedy in response to their research, according to the Harris survey.

And, as seen in a previous Harris poll, Americans are much more likely to discuss what they find with their physician. Thirty-eight percent of Americans said they had done so, compared to only 13% of the French, 19% of Germans, and 9% of Japanese. Slightly less than half in each country said they would judge the information on their own without consulting their physician.

There has been speculation that the Internet could drive a wedge between doctors and patients, but the poll found that about 40% of the respondents in the US, France, and Japan, and 30% in Germany, said they thought their Web visits could improve the relationship. "If they are right, the Internet will bring more patients and doctors closer together than will drive them apart," according to a Harris press release.

Most of the respondents said the Internet would not improve or hurt the relationship.

Just more than half of American and Japanese respondents, though, said they would buy pharmaceuticals online without consulting their physician, if they could. And, a large majority of those surveyed in Germany, the US and France said that drug companies should be able to communicate directly with patients on the Internet.

The government should do something to regulate Internet content, users said. In the US, 52% said it should be a "great deal or somewhat"; 61% of French respondents and 72% of Japanese polled agreed. Only 26% of Germans thought there should be heavy regulation.

© 2002 Reuters Ltd