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Stanford research pinpoints online consumer health use

STANFORD, Calif. - It may be popular for playing games, chatting with friends and checking scores, but the Internet is not as commonly used for health-care purposes as is sometimes reported. While some reports have put the figure at 80 percent, a Stanford University Medical Center study has found that 40 percent of American adults with Internet access, or about 20 percent of the general adult population, use the Internet to look for advice or information on health or health care. It also found the use of the Internet for health has limited impacts on health-care use.

"Many people use the Internet for health information, but the numbers are smaller than some people think and the effects on actual health-care use appear relatively small," said Laurence Baker, PhD, lead author of the study and associate professor of health research and policy at Stanford. "When we think about how to move forward with the Internet in health care, we should not presume that the use of the Internet for health information is nearly universal or that the Internet regularly has strong effects on health-care use."

Baker's paper appears in the May 14 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Previous reports on the prevalence of Internet use for health information vary widely. Some studies report that 75 to 80 percent of online adults use the Internet for this purpose; others put the figure as low as 35 percent.

Baker said a lack of clear information makes it difficult to determine how prevalent Internet use really is and what, if any, impact it has on health care. "Used well, the Internet can be a powerful tool for improving health, but without accurate estimates of use and effects, it is difficult to focus policy discussions and develop the best set of next steps," he said.

In an effort to more accurately measure the extent of Internet use, the researchers surveyed 4,764 Internet users over the age of 21 in late 2001 and early 2002. The
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Contact: Michelle Brandt
mbrandt@stanford.edu
650-723-0272
Stanford University Medical Center
13-May-2003


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