Date Published: 31 March 2008
One in four adults use the Internet to find out more about health issues (HRB Study)
New research from the Health Research Board (HRB) shows that more than one in four Irish adults have used the Internet to search for information about health issues. Females who are in employment are the most likely to use the Internet for health information.
These findings were revealed as part of further research into the HRB National Psychological Wellbeing and Distress Survey which showed that approximately one in seven people experienced mental health problems such as anxiety or depression in the past year. 60% of Internet users who reported mental health problems had used the Internet as a source of information about health issues.
" In short, our findings highlight three points," said Dr Donna Tedstone Doherty, Senior Researcher in the Mental Health Research Unit at the HRB.
" Firstly, there is still a major digital divide in Ireland between those who use the internet –younger people in employment with higher levels of education, and those who don’t – older adults and people with lower educational levels, or those who are unemployed. There is therefore a need to develop and extend current ICT initiatives to reduce inequalities in Internet availability and use’.
Secondly, there is a strong potential to use the Internet as a source of information for both health and mental health issues specifically. In fact, previous research has shown that using the Internet as a source of health information has been beneficial for people who are experiencing stigmatising conditions such as mental health issues. However, using health information from the Internet for decision–making purposes without expert advice has the potential to have a negative impact on a patient’s health. Poor quality, a lack of accuracy and reliability and incomplete information on health sites can lead to problems,’ she says. ‘For example, the Irish Medicines Board reported a number of adverse reactions to medicines bought online’.
Thirdly, if we want to encourage the use of the Internet as a source of health information, it is critical that we evaluate and assess the information available on Irish websites, so that we can guide people towards information that is correct, credible and practical from an Irish perspective. "
Understanding people’s use of the Internet in relation to health issues was central to the study. The authors would advocate the promotion of websites that provide information and support on positive mental health, but would emphasise that some websites have the potential to have a negative impact on people’s general and mental health – for example, the pro anorexia movement or the purchase of medicines online.
" Further research is needed to find out which health sites are being accessed and for what reasons. This information will help ensure that people are getting the information they require and, most importantly, that this information is of a high standard," concluded Dr Tedstone Doherty.
A full copy of the report, Internet use and seeking health information online in Ireland: demographic characteristics and mental health characteristics of users and non–users is available in the publications section of the HRB website at www.hrb.ie/publications.
Source: Health Research Board (HRB), Ireland.