Health websites can be a life-saver, survey finds

Separate study discovers a positive effect on views of cancer treatment
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Can health websites save your life? Eleven percent of respondents to a recent survey by Philips Healthcare said they would be dead or severely incapacitated if not for information they found online.

Separately, a study published in the Journal of Communication found that those who frequently used the Internet to find health information had a more positive outlook on cancer prevention and diagnosis than those who did not.

In the latter study, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania surveyed 2,489 people between the ages of 40 to 70 about their use of media to research health information. The results were weighted by age, gender, ethnicity, education and census region. Previous research found that viewing local TV could increase cancer fatalism over time, but this work suggested the opposite for the Internet. It also found a greater decrease in cancer fatalism among those with less education and less health knowledge, according to PhysBizTech.

"Reducing cancer fatalism, especially among people with low socioeconomic status, is arguably one of the most important public health goals in the nation," lead researcher Chul-joo Lee said of the work's importance.

Meanwhile, in the Philips survey of 1,003 U.S. residents, more than one-third said they believe health-monitoring technology is key to living a long life. Among the other findings:

  • 55 percent said they were comfortable using symptom-checker mobile apps that send data to their doctor; 52 percent said so of home-based vital sign monitors.
  • 41 percent said they were comfortable checking their own symptoms using websites.
  • 27 percent said they used those websites or home-based diagnosis technology instead of visiting their doctor.
  • 28 percent of males and 21 percent of females said they trust online and mobile apps as much as they trust their doctor.

With the federal push for physicians to provide patients with online access, docs have worried that patients would use traditional health services less. A recent study from Kaiser Permanente Colorado, however, found patients with online access tend to use more health services.

And consumers increasingly are using their smartphones to manage their health. More than half of smartphone owners use their devices to get health information and one-fifth of smartphone owners have at least one health app on their phone, according to recent research from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.

To learn more:
- read the survey results
- here's the abstract
- check out the PhysBizTech article

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mHealth, eHealth credited with helping improve global public health