The association between health information seeking on the internet and physician visits (The Seventh Tromsø Study - Part 4): Population-based questionnaire study
AuthorYigzaw, Kassaye Yitbarek; Wynn, Rolf; Ruiz, Luis Marco; Budrionis, Andrius; Oyeyemi, Sunday Oluwafemi; Fagerlund, Asbjørn Johansen; Bellika, Johan Gustav
Background: The internet is being widely used for seeking health information. However, there is no consensus on the association between health information seeking on the internet and the use of health care services. Objective: We examined the association between health information seeking via the internet and physician visits. In addition, we investigated the association between online health information seeking and the decisions to visit and not to visit a physician. Methods: We used the cross-sectional electronic health (eHealth) data of 18,197 participants from the seventh survey of the Tromsø Study (Tromsø 7). The participants were aged ≥40 years and living in Tromsø, Norway. We used logistic regression models to examine the association between online health information seeking and physician visits, the decision to visit a physician, and the decision not to visit a physician, with adjustment for the demographic status, socioeconomic status, and health status of the participants. Results: The use of Web search engines was associated with a physician visit. However, the association was moderated by age, and the OR decreased as age increased. The ORs for the use of Web search engines were 1.99 (95% CI 1.94-2.02) and 1.07 (95% CI 1.03-1.12) at ages 40 and 80 years, respectively. The decision to visit a physician was associated with the use of Web search engines (OR 2.95, 95% CI 2.03-4.46), video search engines (OR 1.43, 95% CI 1.21-1.70), and health apps (OR 1.26, 95% CI 1.13-1.42). The association between social media use and the decision to visit a physician was moderated by gender. Women who used social media had 1.42 (95% CI 1.31-1.55) times higher odds of deciding to visit a physician, whereas the decision to visit a physician was not different between men who used social media and those who did not use social media. Conversely, the decision not to visit a physician was associated with the use of Web search engines (OR 2.78, 95% CI 1.92-4.18), video search engines (OR 1.27, 95% CI 1.07-1.51), social media (OR 1.28, 95% CI 1.10-1.49), and health apps (OR 1.20, 95% CI 1.07-1.35). Conclusions: Health information found on the internet was positively associated with both the decision to visit a physician and the decision not to visit a physician. However, the association of health information seeking with the decision to visit a physician was slightly stronger than the association with the decision not to visit a physician. This could imply that the use of eHealth services is associated with a resultant increase in physician visits. In summary, our findings suggest that the internet serves as a supplement to health care services rather than as a replacement.