The internet and people's help-seeking behaviours: In Fact

Health information is widely available on the internet, and there is now a tendency to use information online before seeking advice from a GP (Hesse et al., 2005). This fact sheet reports on the use of the internet to find health information and attitudes towards the reliability of information on the internet.

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Commissioning agencies
Date of last publication
Apr 2015

Methodology

Respondents in the 2014 Health and Lifestyles Survey (HLS) were asked two questions on the use of the internet in relation to personal health concerns and issues. First, they were asked, ‘When you have a health concern or issue, do you…’: a) Look it up on the internet or Google; b) Go straight to your GP or nurse; c) Look it up on the internet or Google and then go and see your GP or nurse; d) Talk to family or friends; or e) Take no action. The response options were mutually exclusive. Second, they were asked for their agreement, on a five-point scale, with the statement, ‘The internet delivers quality health information and accurate advice concerning health issues I might search for.’ Daily internet use for an average day is also reported to give context to respondents’ attitudes towards the internet on health concerns/issues.

Responses were compared by gender, age, ethnicity, neighbourhood deprivation status and educational background. Only those help-seeking behaviours that had greater than 10% response were analysed by subgroups. When looking at subgroup differences in help-seeking behaviours that involved using the internet, we have controlled for internet use status; this means that we take into account the status of a respondent’s internet use to ensure that any differences found by subgroup (gender, age, ethnicity, neighbourhood deprivation status or educational background) are not due to differences in internet use status. When looking at differences by subgroups in agreement with the quality and accuracy of information on the internet, we have also controlled for internet use status.

Only those group differences that were statistically significant (p < .05) are reported.

Key Results

• When faced with a health concern/issue, the majority of respondents reported going straight to their GP or nurse.

• 29% of respondents reported using the internet to find health information; 11% only used the internet, and 18% used the internet first and then saw their GP or nurse.

• Help-seeking behaviour differed by gender, age, ethnicity and educational background.

• 29% of respondents agreed that the internet delivers quality health information and accurate advice.

• The more time respondents spent on average using the internet, the more likely they were to agree that accurate and quality health information could be found on the internet.

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