NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Internet Is Empowering Patients

March 31, 2000

Those who oppose patient power claim that people do not have the necessary expertise or desire to manage their own health care dollars. The growth of the Internet and the vast amount of information it makes available are helping to demolish that argument.

Health information is some of the most popular content on the Internet.

  • An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 web sites provide health information.
  • According to a recent Harris Poll, in one year 70 million Americans went online to search for information about health.
  • Women are particularly taking advantage of web resources, being almost twice as likely to search for health information as men.
  • In a survey by Health on the Net Foundation, 90 percent of health information seekers said they found the information they were seeking.

For example, people with rare or unusual diseases or medical conditions now look for innovative or experimental approaches being tried in other parts of the country or abroad. Online support groups allow diverse people to connect and share information with others, and information about the thousands of clinical studies currently being conducted enables patients to post online inquires about participation.

In the traditional doctor-patient relationship, patients relied on a physician for virtually all their information. When Sapient Health Network surveyed its online support groups, people said their support groups not only were more cost-effective but also provided more in-depth information on the illness and more help in locating other medical resources.

In fact, Nancy Dickey, president of the American Medical Association, told the Washington Post that a large number of doctors now routinely advise patients to use the Internet to obtain second opinions.

Source: Devon Herrick (research manager, NCPA), "Patient Power and the Internet," Brief Analysis No. 317, March 31, 2000, National Center for Policy Analysis.

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