Providers of health care usually have much better information about health and health care interventions than do consumers. The internet is an important and rapidly evolving source of global health-related information and could provide a means of correcting for asymmetric information. However, little is known about who accesses this information and how it is used in New Zealand.
The aims of this research were to: determine the nature of the health information sought, how respondents use the information, how helpful they perceive the information to be, and the self-assessed value of such information.
The researchers conducted an anonymous five minute telephone and mall intercept survey of randomly selected Wellington residents who had searched for health-related information on the internet. Investigators entered the data into an Excel spreadsheet and transferred it to SPSS for data cleaning, data exploration and statistical analysis. Search time costs were based on the opportunity cost of income foregone and respondents were asked to provide a money value for the information found.
Eighty-three percent of respondents accessed the internet from home, and 87% conducted the search for themselves. Forty-five percent of people were looking for general health and nutrition information, 42% for data about a specific illness and 40% for a medicine.
After finding the information, 58% discussed it with a family member/ friend/ workmate, 36% consulted a general practitioner, 33% changed their eating or drinking habits, and 13% did nothing. Respondents found the information very quick to find and useful. It took them on average 0.47 hours and cost $12 (opportunity cost of time) to find the information. The average value of the data found was $60 and the net benefit to the consumer was $48 ($60 – $12).
The results of this research could assist providers of health information via the internet to tailor their websites to better suit users' needs. Given the high perceived value of internet health information (greater than the average general practitioner fee) and the fact that some of the information found may be unreliable or even unsafe a valuable public health policy initiative would be to provide an improved New Zealand health information website containing information on how to evaluate data sourced from the world-wide-web and links to a range of useful and trustworthy health information sites.