The Internet is bringing fundamental changes to medical practice through improved access to health information and participation in decision making. However, patient preferences for participation in health care vary greatly. Promoting patient-centered health care requires an understanding of the relationship between Internet use and a broader range of preferences for participation than previously measured.
To explore (1) whether there is a significant relationship between Internet use frequency and patients’ overall preferences for obtaining health information and decision-making autonomy, and (2) whether the relationships between Internet use frequency and information and decision-making preferences differ with respect to different aspects of health conditions.
The Health Information Wants Questionnaire (HIWQ) was administered to gather data about patients’ preferences for the (1) amount of information desired about different aspects of a health condition, and (2) level of decision-making autonomy desired across those same aspects.
The study sample included 438 individuals: 226 undergraduates (mean age 20; SD 2.15) and 212 community-dwelling older adults (mean age 72; SD 9.00). A significant difference was found between the younger and older age groups’ Internet use frequencies, with the younger age group having significantly more frequent Internet use than the older age group (younger age group mean 5.98, SD 0.33; older age group mean 3.50, SD 2.00; t
436=17.42, P<.01). Internet use frequency was positively related to the overall preference rating (γ=.15, P<.05), suggesting that frequent Internet users preferred significantly more information and decision making than infrequent Internet users. The relationships between Internet use frequency and different types of preferences varied: compared with infrequent Internet users, frequent Internet users preferred more information but less decision making for diagnosis (γ=.57, P<.01); more information and more decision-making autonomy for laboratory test (γ=.15, P<.05), complementary and alternative medicine (γ=.32, P<.01), and self-care (γ=.15, P<.05); and less information but more decision-making autonomy for the psychosocial (γ=-.51, P<.01) and health care provider (γ=-.27, P<.05) aspects. No significant difference was found between frequent and infrequent Internet users in their preferences for treatment information and decision making.
Internet use frequency has a positive relationship with the overall preferences for obtaining health information and decision-making autonomy, but its relationship with different types of preferences varies. These findings have important implications for medical practice.