a better understanding of what is going on. Yet doctors often underestimate the types and amount of
information that patients want, or they lack the
time to explain everything. Even if doctors do try to
explain, their explanations are often too technical
for laypeople to fully understand [ 3].
Second, the Internet could be an effective alternative source of health information (it’s perhaps an
inevitable one). In recent years government agencies
(e.g., the National Institutes of Health), nongovernment organizations (e.g., medical associations), and
for-profit companies are increasingly moving health
information and services online. The Web has
already become an important source of health information for the majority of Internet users, and the
older population has started to realize the potential
of the Internet in meeting health-information needs
[ 4]. Among older Internet users, one of the primary
reasons for wanting to use the Internet is to seek
health information [ 5]. Health-information seeking
is one of the most commonly reported online activities for older (and younger) adult Web users.
Third, it is important to note that the older population’s general adoption of the Internet [ 6] still lags
behind that of younger age groups significantly.
Even among the small number of older adults who
are beginning to use the Internet for health information, the majority of them lack sophisticated
online search skills and strategies that can help
them to make maximal use of online resources.
When seeking health information online, most
people simply start their searches with commercial
search engines; very few use authoritative health-information portal websites (e.g., those developed by
the National Institutes of Health or medical associations) as a starting point, something Margaret’s case
reflects. While Internet users report being skeptical
of the credibility of online health information, the
majority of them actually pay very little attention, if
any, to the date and origin of the health information
they find on the Internet [ 7, 4].
The power of the Internet in providing health
information fits well with the paradigm shift in
doctor-patient relationships. While only a few
decades ago patients were expected to be passive
receivers of medical care and doctors expected to be
making all of the decisions, healthcare professionals now encourage patients to be well informed and
to play a more active role in their healthcare. This
new paradigm can empower patients, improve the
quality of healthcare and patients’ satisfaction, and
[ 3] Bagley-Burnett, C.
Instruments for Clinical
3rd ed. edited
by M. Frank-Stromborg
and S. J. Olsen,
Mass.: Jones and
[ 4 ]Fox, S. (2006).
Online Health Search.
Washington DC: Pew
Internet & American
Life Project. Accessed
July 3, 2007 <http://
[ 5] Morrell, R. W., C.
B. Mayhorn, and K.
V. Echt. "Why Older
Adults Use and Do
Not Use the Internet."
Research and Practice
In Technology and
Aging, edited by D. C.
Burdick and S. Kwon.
New York: Springer,
[ 6] Fox, S. (2005).
Washington D. C.: PE W
Internet & American
Life. Accessed March
16, 2007 <http://www.
[ 7] Eysenbach, G.,
and C. Köhler. “How
Do Consumers Search
for and Appraise
Health Information on
the World Wide Web?
Qualitative Study Using
Focus Groups, Usability
Tests, and In-Depth
Interviews.” BMJ 324