Consumers stumble while looking for health info online

As consumers increasingly turn to the Internet for health information, a small German study looks at how older, less-educated populations access such information compared with younger, better-educated people. The research, published this week in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, compared the Internet search strategies of 22 native Germans divided into younger and older groups.

A survey from Wolters Kluwer Health released last month found that 57 percent of Americans say they use the Internet to seek out health information; 65 percent said they trust the information they find online.

The German study looks at consumers' ability to search the Internet for the information they seek. It examined their attitudes, technical skills and cognitive strategies. They were given scenarios commonly search by U.S. adult Web users including diseases and symptoms, information about prescription drugs and information about medical tests.

Among the findings:

  • Younger users were more adept at Web search.
  • Older users were more likely to be overwhelmed and to get distracted by unrelated information.
  • Participants were skeptical of online information, but that skepticism vanished once they found a suitable website.
  • Once participants found a suitable website, they stopped looking for other information.
  • Users gravitated toward for pages that confirmed their own opinions.

The authors acknowledge that the small sample size prevents broad generalizations. They suggest, however, that labeling search engine results according to quality criteria could help consumers find better information.

study published last month in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that while the top four search engines -- Google, Bing, and Yahoo-- all provide "rich" health and medical information, all remain less than ideal.

They noted that users tend to use only one search engine and to look at only the first page of results.

The major search engines are racing to improve search and ways to display the results that help users find what they're looking for. Yahoo, Bing and Google last month all unveiled new features or previewed upcoming ones, according to The Associated Press.

To learn more:
- read the JMIR research
- here's the AP article


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