• Internet;
  • primary care;
  • health information

OBJECTIVES: To determine the percentage of patients enrolled in a primary care practice who use the Internet for health information, to describe the types of information sought, to evaluate patients' perceptions of the quality of this information, and to determine if patients who use the Internet for health information discuss this with their doctors.

DESIGN: Self-administered mailed survey.

SETTING: Patients from a primary care internal medicine private practice.

PARTICIPANTS: Randomly selected patients ( N = 1,000) were mailed a confidential survey between December 1999 and March 2000. The response rate was 56.2%.

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Of the 512 patients who returned the survey, 53.5% (274) stated that they used the Internet for medical information. Those using the Internet for medical information were more educated ( P < .001) and had higher incomes ( P < .001). Respondents used the Internet for information on a broad range of medical topics. Sixty percent felt that the information on the Internet was the “same as” or “better than” information from their doctors. Of those using the Internet for health information, 59% did not discuss this information with their doctor. Neither gender, education level, nor age less than 60 years was associated with patients sharing their Web searches with their physicians. However, patients who discussed this information with their doctors rated the quality of information higher than those who did not share this information with their providers.

CONCLUSIONS: Primary care providers should recognize that patients are using the World Wide Web as a source of medical and health information and should be prepared to offer suggestions for Web-based health resources and to assist patients in evaluating the quality of medical information available on the Internet.