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Keywords:

  • medical informatics;
  • aging;
  • decision making;
  • doctor-patient relationships;
  • survey research

BACKGROUND: Understanding how and when patients use nonphysician sources of health information is important to facilitate shared decision making within provider outpatient visits. However, little is known about which older adults seek health information on the internet or when.

OBJECTIVE: To determine how patient characteristics are related to seeking health information online and to the timing of these searches in relation to doctor visits.

PARTICIPANTS: Six thousand two hundred and seventy-nine respondents (aged 63 to 66 years) who completed the 2004 round of phone and mail surveys (70% response) as part of the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study Graduate Sample.

MEASUREMENTS: Self-reported use of the internet to search for health information and timing of use.

RESULTS: One-third of respondents had searched online for information about their own health or health care. Half of these searched for health information unrelated to their last doctor visit, while 1/3 searched after a visit, and 1/6 searched before. Among respondents with internet access at home or work, years of education (odds ratio [OR]=1.09, confidence interval [CI]=1.06 to 1.13) and openness-to-experience (OR=1.26, CI=1.16 to 1.36) were positively associated with searching online for health information irrespective of timing in relation to doctor visits. Compared with those who had never sought health information online, sicker individuals (especially those with cancer, OR=1.51, CI=1.14 to 1.99) were more likely to seek information online after a doctor visit. Attitudinal and personality factors were related to seeking health information online before or unrelated to a visit.

CONCLUSIONS: There are important differences in the timing of online health information searches by psychological and health characteristics among older adults with internet access.