Why Does It Mean to Seek Health Information Online?

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Researchers found that, on average, men who searched for health information online were younger, had more people living with them in their homes, suffered from multiple chronic conditions, and reported more frustrations with caring. health and barriers to self-care.


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In a recent study, a multidisciplinary team of researchers from Texas A&M University identified the reasons why men seek health information online. The study specifically looked at middle-aged and older African American and Hispanic men living with one or more chronic illnesses.

While previous research has identified disparities in searching for health information on the web, few studies have explored the correlation between searching for health information on the web based on factors such as race. , gender, age and the presence of chronic health problems.

Ledric Sherman, Assistant Professor in the Department of Health and Kinesiology at Texas A&M University College of Education & Human Development, with colleagues Matthew Lee Smith, Co-Director of the Center for Population Health and Aging and Kirby Goidel, Professor of Political Science at the College of liberal arts, in collaboration with Caroline Bergeron of Employment and Social Development Canada, recently published their findings in the Internet medical research journal.

“Despite the prevalence of chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease among middle-aged and older populations, use of preventive health services remains low,” Sherman said. “This is especially true among men, who traditionally underutilize clinical and community health resources. However, little is still known about the reasons why men underutilize health services, and this is the main reason for carrying out this study. “

Using an online survey questionnaire for data collection, researchers identified 2,028 men who met inclusion criteria, including demographics, health-related behaviors, availability of resources. for the management of care, the use of technology and credibility. However, 106 were omitted from the study on the basis of not having used the internet in the previous two weeks.

The study was carried out in two phases. In the first phase, participants were asked about their internet use for two weeks and whether their search for information related to a “specific disease or medical problem” or “a certain treatment or medical procedure”.

To be included in the second phase, participants had to answer “yes” to the information seeking variables of the first phase, in addition to reporting having had a routine visit to a doctor in the past year. Phase two asked participants if they shared this information online with their healthcare provider.

In the first phase, the average age of the 1,922 participants who reported using the Internet in the past two weeks was 56.63 years, with approximately 1,221 African-American and 801 Hispanic participants. Of these men, more than half were in a relationship or married (51.87 percent) and the majority had at least one university (79.92 percent) and had seen a health doctor in the previous year ( 84.65 percent). In addition, these men reported having an average of almost four chronic diseases (3.93) and taking just over three medications per day (3.39). More than half (57.7 percent) of men reported receiving support to improve and manage their health and chronic illnesses, with 17.43 percent reporting taking programs or classes to help manage their chronic illnesses .

Researchers found that, on average, men who searched for health information online were younger, had more people living with them in their homes, suffered from multiple chronic conditions, and reported more frustrations with caring. health and barriers to self-care.

“These results suggest that African American and Hispanic men with more complex disease profiles and those who are unhappy with their current and past interactions with health care and health care providers are more likely to seek out information, recommendations and solutions on their online health issues, ”Smith said. . “This suggests a proactive approach to finding health information, which may be motivated by their urgent need to meet health needs and gain practical support. “

Additionally, participants who reported using multiple sources of technology when searching for health information online found the information online to be more reliable.

“Finding information online can help inform the interactions African American and Hispanic men have with their health care providers and improve the overall quality of their health care,” Goidel said. “Even so, there are disparities in terms of who, among these populations, seek out information and then use that information in subsequent conversations with their doctors.”

Sherman added that there may be barriers to finding health information online.

“The first hurdle would be any information that does not come from a credible source such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Heart Association, the National Institute of Health, etc. The second would be websites with incorrect, outdated, or biased information. “Sherman said.” A third is the frustration or anxiety of not being able to find the information you are looking for. However, nothing beats the personalized advice and treatment of a doctor or physician. ‘a health care provider, so when possible, this should always be the first point of contact. “

In the second phase of the study, the researchers found that of the 1,035 men who had discussed their findings on the Internet with their doctors over the past year, those who had only sought information about diseases. Specifics on the Web were less likely to discuss what they found with their health care provider. Additionally, Hispanic men who had taken health management programs for their chronic conditions were more likely to discuss the results online with their health care provider.

“This suggests that men with comorbidities and complicated health needs who recognize their difficulties in caring for themselves may be more inclined to seek help using online information and interactions with health care providers. “said Smith. “This shows that men need multiple sources of information and support to overcome obstacles and better manage their conditions on their own.”

Sherman added that searching for information online serves as a means of education for these men.

“These men are searching for health information online in order to learn about the conditions they live in, but more importantly, how best to manage their conditions within the confines of their preparedness, residence and life. their community, their workplace and their personal behavioral choices. , “he said.” Plus, the online platform serves as a method of communication and education in addition to their healthcare provider. “

This study was conducted as part of a multidisciplinary Texas A&M Triads for Transformation (T3) seed grant program, which is part of the President’s Excellence Fund. Interdisciplinary teams of three faculty members were required to complete the research within 12 to 24 months. This study was one of 100 uniquely identified projects selected to receive a $ 30,000 grant.

“This opportunity brought together a multidisciplinary team of researchers for a joint investigation,” said Smith. “Diverse teams are beneficial for the research and advancement of new knowledge, because each has their skills and the lens through which they look at the problem. Through this collaboration, we are strengthening the university’s ability to harmonize interdisciplinary research efforts for better population health.


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