The Internet is viewed as an important source for health information and a medium for patient empowerment. However, little is known about how seniors use the Internet in relation to other sources for health information.
The aim was to determine which information resources seniors who use the Internet use and trust for health information, which sources are preferred, and which sources are used by seniors for different information needs.
Questions from published surveys were selected based on their relevance to the study objectives. The Autonomy Preference Index was used to assess information needs and preferences for involvement in health decisions. Invitation to participate in this online survey was sent to the email list of a local senior organization (298 addresses) in the Netherlands.
There were 118 respondents with a median age of 72 years (IQR 67-78 years). Health professionals, pharmacists, and the Internet were the most commonly used and trusted sources of health information. Leaflets, television, newspapers, and health magazines were also important sources. Respondents who reported higher use of the Internet also reported higher use of other sources (P<.001). Use of health professionals, pharmacists, leaflets, telephone, television, and radio were not significantly different; use of all other resources was significantly higher in frequent Internet users. When in need of health information, preferred sources were the Internet (46/105, 43.8%), other sources (eg, magazines 38/105, 36.2%), health professionals (18/105, 17.1%), and no information seeking (3/105, 2.8%). Of the 51/107 respondents who indicated that they had sought health information in the last 12 months, 43 sought it after an appointment, 23 were preparing for an appointment, and 20 were deciding if an appointment was needed. The source used varied by the type of information sought. The Internet was used most often for symptoms (27/42, 64%), prognosis (21/31, 68%), and treatment options (23/41, 62%), whereas health professionals were asked for additional information on medications (20/36, 56%), side effects (17/36, 47%), coping (17/31, 55%), practical care (12/14, 86%), and nutrition/exercise (18/30, 60%).
For these seniors who use the Internet, the Internet was a preferred source of health information. Seniors who report higher use of the Internet also report higher use of other information resources and were also the primary consumers of paper-based resources. Respondents most frequently searched for health information after an appointment rather than to prepare for an appointment. Resources used varied by health topic. Future research should seek to confirm these findings in a general elderly population, investigate how seniors seek and understand information on the Internet, and investigate how to reach seniors who prefer not to use the Internet for health information.