Why do many older adults distrust online health info & what can be done about it?

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Interesting work just published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, “Trust in the Internet as a Health Resource Among Older Adults: Analysis of Data from a Nationally Representative Survey.


“As the Internet’s capabilities as a health resource expand, it is important that older individuals be provided with tools and knowledge to assess the credibility of online health information. This is especially critical given that dubious information regarding medical issues can result in physical or mental harm. The results of our study highlight several potential targets for improving older adults’ trust in the Internet as a health resource. While adults aged 65 years and older were significantly less likely to trust the Internet for health information, this association disappeared after accounting for two significant factors: one was confusion due to overwhelming amounts of information, and the other was lack of awareness about the source providing health information found online (a key step to assessing the credibility of a website). These issues could be addressed through websites that incorporate senior-friendly design elements (eg, an uncluttered layout with a large font size and comfortably sized buttons and links) and through the promotion of websites that are clearly associated with trustworthy institutions (ie, via credibility cues like images and logos). Clarifying the source and credibility of information may be especially important for individuals with lower levels of autonomy who tend to gravitate toward traditional intermediaries for health information.”

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Comments (4)

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Gregory D. Pawelski

February 17, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Properly managed, the net-savvy patient can be a time-saving asset. There have been a number of other studies showing that a more educated patient is a more compliant patient. What is essential is effective communication between provider and patient that can prevent miseducation and misunderstanding.
As patients launch increased explorations into medical cyberspace, they are finding out more about diseases, and researching therapies and therapeutic alternatives. Increasingly, they are questioning and challenging physician authority. Why not!? Properly managed, the Internet can enhance the doctor-patient relationship, rather than undermine it.
Patients can be directed to sites that improve their lifestyle, motivate greater levels of therapeutic compliance, cut down on basic questions, help combat illness more effectively, increase wellness and prevention skills, and maintain overall wellness. The Internet, when used correctly, can be a powerful educational tool.
Clearly, it is in the best interest of most physicians to explore, in partnership with patients, the opportunities afforded by new technologies. Before engaging patients, doctors should verse themselves in Internet basics or at least have a working knowledge of how to guide a patient down the correct electronic pathway.
The phenomenon of the Internet-savvy patient will only become more prevalent as time goes on. They don’t want to feel powerless or have to rely on the doctor to make all of the decisions. It is a way of sharing information and stimulating ideas. A great way to get new perspectives and information. It just may be the older patient may not be as Internet-savvy as younger patients.

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February 21, 2011 at 4:19 pm

According to the Pew Research Center, if you’re like 80% of the Internet users out there, you’ve looked for health-related information online. But type “cancer” into a search engine and you’ll get over 306,000,000 (yes, million!) results. Where do you begin? And can you trust what you find