Despite Intentions, Most Don't Use Web Health Care Info

March 12, 2003 ( - Consumers are twice as likely to use the Internet to research a new car purchase or major family vacation than prepare for a visit to the doctor about a medical concern.

While almost 75% of survey respondents said they want to use the Internet to find health-care information and a majority (59%) say the most important reason for using the Internet is to get health care information so they can have a more informed discussion with their doctors, only 28% actually put their mouse where their mouth is, according to “The ‘Net Effect: Online Health Care Tools Still Missing the Mark for Consumers,” conducted by CIGNA.

The 28% of those currently using the Internet before a visit to the doctor revealed their main concerns to be:

  • 33% said they would rather discuss their ailment with a live person
  • 17% said there is way too much data to sort through
  • 15% said they don’t know if Web information is credible
  • 5% said they didn’t know it was available
  • 4% said the information they find online doesn’t meet their needs

The survey found that consumers perform more research, both online and offline, when planning vacations or significant purchases than before seeing a doctor about a health concern.  Survey respondents were asked whether they perform “a lot of research” before making important decisions:

  • 62% say they do before buying a new car
  • 48% say they do when planning a major family vacation
  • 42% say they do prior to buying a major appliance or computer
  • 32% say they do before seeing a doctor about a medical concern

Online Quality

Overwhelmingly, consumers are looking for more useful online tools to help them make better choices with the sometimes-difficult health-care decisions they face.  When they were asked about several Web-based services that could provide personalized health information, 91% said they would find valuable an online service that lets them learn more about a disease or condition that may affect them or their family. 

Further, more than eight of 10 (81%) would find value in an online tool that lets them compare the quality ratings of hospitals before going in for a medical procedure and nearly the same amount (82%) said an online service that lets them compare the effectiveness, costs and alternatives for prescription drugs would be valuable to them.

Additionally, 80% responded positively to the value of an online tool that allowed them to get more information about their chances for developing certain diseases or conditions.

Generational Gender Gaps

The survey found that women, who in many households are the primary health-care decision makers, are nearly twice as likely as men to do “a lot of research” before seeing a doctor about a medical concern (41% of women versus 23% of men).

Examining the generational divide revealed Baby Boomers were significantly more likely to perform “a lot of research” prior to seeing a doctor about a medical condition than members of Generation Y (37% of the Boomers versus 27% of Generation Y).  Interestingly, Boomers were also more likely to have used the Internet for that research than members of their Y counterparts, who have grown up with the Internet (31% of Baby Boomers versus 22% of Generation Y).

Also, members of the Y generation expressed more skepticism about the information available online about health care.  This group was twice as likely to say the main reason they do not use the Internet more to get health-care information is because they are unsure of the credibility of the information they find online.