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5th HON Survey on the Evolution of Internet Use for Health Purposes
October - November 1999
3,276 Web users took part in this latest Health On the Net Foundation poll. 58% are from North America and 28% from Europe, with the remaining 14% from South America, Oceania, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Central America. Overall, there is a good mix of participant-types: 46% of the total number of respondents are professionals or students in healthcare, the rest "non-medical" users.
This survey has helped the HON team set another important milestone in our understanding of the medical Internet. In summary:
Table of Contents
This is a presentation of some of the data from our October-November 1999, survey. For a better understanding of the replies analysed below, please consult the questionnaire .
Below is a selection of results that struck us as particularly interesting. They are in three parts.
a. General user trends
° 98% of all respondents agreed with the statement, "I have found useful medical/health
information on the Internet."
° 88% of all respondents either agree or strongly agree with the statement,
"I have found the medical/health information I was looking for".
° A record 71% of all HON survey respondents either agree or strongly agree with the
statement "The quality of medical/health information on the Internet needs to improve".
° Only 45% of all respondents (as well as 45% of all medical professionals in
North America) agree with the statement, "Doctors in my country are actively using the Internet".
° 31% of the total number of medical professionals say they are nurses,
the biggest single group in this category.
° 69% of all U.S. and Canadian users are over 40 years old – and 38% are over 50 –
while only 49% of Europeans are over 40.
° 51% of all respondents to the October-November 1999 HON survey are female, compared
to 47% in the March-April 1999 survey and 38% in the first survey (February-March 1997).
b. Drugs and patient-provider communications
A new section of the October-November 1999 survey questionnaire sought to explore how patients and their care providers learn about – and buy – pharmaceutical products on the Internet. It also questioned them about their use of email and other Web-based communications.
The key findings:
° The proportion climbs to 83% of all respondents from medical professions ; 81% of
healthcare professionals in North America use the Web for this purpose, compared to 73% of the same category in Europe.
° 75% of all North American users do this, compared to 44% of all Europeans.
° This proportion climbs to 30% for nurses and 36% for medical specialists.
° This figure is 18% for North America alone, and 10% for Europe.
(Note: In HON's experience, well-managed support groups can help individual patients cope with
chronic disease. They can also offer care providers useful peer-group advice and information.)
(Note : Have one-third of medical Internet users really had interactive
sessions with "cyberdocs" already? HON's questionnaire may not have made respondents sufficiently
aware of the distinct notions of information retrieval and on-line, person-to-person medical consultation.)
° Contrary to expectations, this figure was 26% for Europeans and only 19% for North Americans.
c. User top ten
The question Which three medical/healthcare Web sites closely meet your needs resulted in the following popularity ranking :
Statistics and Analysis
The findings of this survey are based on 3,276 individual responses to a questionnaire posted on the HON Web site in seven language versions (English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Polish. The questionnaire was "live" between October 1 and November 30, 1999. All percentages are rounded off to the nearest full number. 58% of the participants accessed the survey from North America, 28% from Europe, while the remaining 14% came, in descending order, from South America, Oceania, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Central America. To HON's knowledge, this survey was thus one of the most geographically comprehensive and, in terms of respondents, one of the largest of its kind conducted to date.
HON is steadily improving its software tools for analysing the results. For the latest survey, users can now choose between PERL and Java features (, ) for clear, graphical presentations of the data. You can also track the evolution of Internet use through five consecutive HON surveys by calling up and comparing graphs or charts of results over three-and-a-half years.
HON surveys use non-probabilistic sampling and cannot ensure that participants are representative of the entire medical and health information-user community on the Internet. However, HON is one of the most important medical information portals on the Web today, and we benefit from one of the highest link factors of all healthcare Web sites. The observations and inferences we draw from our survey results can therefore arguably apply to a large proportion, if not all, of the healthcare information seekers on the Internet .
HON surveys are posted on the HON Web site. A link from HON's home page takes users directly to the questionnaire. Participants are in their great majority regular Web users and are solicited in the following manner :
The questionnaire for the October-November 1999 survey was designed for completion within ten minutes. With 30 separate multiple-choice questions in seven different language versions, it was the most ambitious to date in the HON series, featuring nine new questions on pharmaceutical products and provider-patient communications.
HON surveys offer respondents an opportunity to leave messages, many of which help us to improve the design and content of future questionnaires and other HON services. In the October-November 1999 survey, 521 participants left a wide variety of comments and questions.
About Health on the Net Foundation
Health On the Net Foundation (HON) is a not-for-profit portal for medical and health-related information. We are widely recognised for the power and user-friendliness of our proprietary search engines (MedHunt and HONselect ,) and for our commitment to responsible self-regulation by medical and health-related information providers on the Web. The HONcode  is both the sector's leading ethical standard and the most widely-endorsed set of guidelines for healthcare Web site developers in existence today. The HON Foundation is established in Geneva, Switzerland. Our Web site went live in March, 1996.
The content provided by Health On the Net Foundation is for information purposes only and is in no way intended to be a substitute for medical consultation with a qualified professional. The Foundation encourages Internet users to be careful when using medical information. If you are unsure about your medical condition, consult a physician. Although we carefully review our content, Health On the Net Foundation cannot guarantee nor take responsibility for the medical accuracy of documents we publish, nor can HON assume any liability for the content of Web sites linked to our site. To find out more about our efforts to improve the quality of medical information on the Internet, visit our Code of Conduct (HONcode ).
We wish to thank most sincerely those individuals and organisations that helped us design, plan and conduct this survey. They include expert translators for the six non-English versions of the questionnaire, HON users who spontaneously contacted us with constructive suggestions, and Web sites that provide their own users with a link to us.
All these services were performed voluntarily and entirely free of charge, in the best spirit of the Internet.
References Results pages: http://www.hon.ch/Survey/analysis.html
 October-November 1999 questionnaire http://www.hon.ch/Survey/quest_internet_OctNov99_notactive.html
 Software tool in PERL for analysing the results http://www.hon.ch/cgi-bin/Survey/surv_en5.pl
 Software tools in Java for analysing the results http://www.hon.ch/Survey/Java/OctNov99/
 Announcement sites:
 Methodology http://www.hon.ch/Survey/method.html
 Questionnaire http://www.hon.ch/Survey/quest_internet.html
 MedHunt http://www.hon.ch/MedHunt/
 HONselect http://www.hon.ch/HONselect/
 HONcode http://www.hon.ch/Conduct.html
|http://www.hon.ch/Survey/ResultsSummary_oct_nov99.html||Last modified: Thu Jul 18 2002|