Study: Patients Less Interested in Most Health Media Sources

January 1, 2012
Marisa Torrieri

Though Internet-fueled health research has increased, other types of healthcare research have declined.

It would seem logical in this Internet-infused, patient-testimonial-influenced day and age that a growing number of patients are seeking information about their own health. 

But new research suggests the opposite, that patients are suffering from information overload, and actually spending less time looking for healthcare information from media sources than they were five years ago.

The Center for Studying Health System Change unearthed the finding (which researchers called a surprise) that as visits to physicians fall, patients are seeking less information these days, according to reports. In a survey of 17,000 patients, physician visits dropped 4 percent between 2007 and 2010, while the percentage of American adults seeking information about a personal health concern in the previous 12 months fell from 55.5 percent to 50 percent in the same timeframe.

Researchers speculate the trend reflects the reality that when patients are less able to see a physician, perhaps due to financial concerns, they’re also less engaged in their own health.

What’s more, out of all the media information sources studied, which includes print media, TV, radio, friends, and the Internet, the only information source being tapped at a greater rate is the Internet. But even though 32.6 percent of patients are using the Internet to access health information, it’s a modest boost from 2007, when 31.1 percent of patients went online for that purpose.

All that being said, physicians might want to keep in mind generational differences before they assume patients won’t be trolling the media for information.

Cam Marston, an author and demographics expert who spoke at October’s Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) conference, noted that “millennial” patients - those born since 1980 - are more likely to do healthcare research than their baby boomer counterparts.

“The baby boomer customer is one who treats the physician as a shaman, and simply listens to and obeys the decision,” Marston told Physicians Practice in a video interview. “The millennial customer is more interested in what their own research reveals. The millennial is likely to come in with a lot of information.”

The bottom line: It’s still wise for physicians to prepare for those media-savvy patients who are full of questions.