Patients trust online health info; wary of payer advice

Consumers trust health information they find online, according to a new survey. But a second poll finds health plans aren't such a trusted source.

In a survey from Wolters Kluwer Health, 65 percent of those seeking medical information online say they trust the information they find and 63 percent say they've never misdiagnosed themselves based on something they read online.

The survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers ages 18 and older also found:

  • 67 percent of respondents say healthcare sites have made them better-informed patients.
  • 48 percent say they go online to be better informed before a doctor visit.
  • Only 4 percent report having experienced "cyberchondria," a term coined to describe people who become hypochondriacs after reading about health maladies on the Internet.

Meanwhile, more than half the respondents in a poll by consultants Peppers & Rogers Group on trust in healthcare were leery of information provided by their health plan, according to a post by health economist Jane Sarasohn-Kahn on her Health Populi blog. The poll found that only 43 percent trust information provided by the health plan, though that trust rises with physicians (46 percent) and pharmacists (43 percent). Still those percentages don't signal a ringing endorsement.

A 2011 Wolters Kluwer survey of 300 physicians, meanwhile, found they, too, turn to Google and other search engines (46 percent), though professional journals remain their preferred source of information (68 percent). And 63 percent of physicians surveyed said they had changed a diagnosis after consulting an online source.

Linda Peitzman, chief medical officer for Wolters Kluwer Health, noted the significant impact of online health information, including in some cases altering the way physicians practice. Yet she warned in a company statement, "Clinical decision support tools have changed the medical industry for the better in many areas, eliminating manual errors and measurably improving quality of care, but all resources are not created equal. This is why it's critical to always consider the source."

And, finally, a recent survey by Summa Health System in Ohio found that users of its Facebook page, Twitter account and blog were looking for information on personal health--evolving avenues of engagement for many health systems, FierceHealthcare recently reported.

The Peppers & Rogers report suggested ways to build trust including showing patients that you know them by offering personalized care, engaging them and being transparent about services.

To learn more:
- read the Wolters Kluwer survey results
- check out the Peppers & Rogers Group report (registration required)
- here's the Health Populi post