The Third Annual World Congress on the Internet in Medicine
London, United Kingdom, 16 - 19 November, 1998

Electronic Posters Session

HON's Third survey on the usage of the
Internet for medical & health Internet purposes

C. Boyer 1, V. Baujard 1, JR. Scherrer 1 and R. D. Appel 1, 2, 3

1 Health On the Net Foundation, Geneva, Switzerland
2 Geneva University Hospital, Geneva, Switzerland
3 Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, Geneva, Switzerland

E-mail Address: 1,2,

Table of Contents

Key words:

Survey; Internet; Medical; Health; Statistics on the use;


Today's most frequently asked question about the Internet is "who is using it, and for what?". This question is almost as old as the Web itself. For the evolution of the Internet to continue, information providers must understand the user's needs. The Health On the Net Foundation (HON) [1] conducts on a regular basis a survey on the "Use of the Internet for medical/health purposes" to assess the value, level and ease of use of Internet [2, 3, 4]. The first survey was done in February/March 1997 [2, 5], and the latest one, in May/June 1998. These are run on the same subject in order to
provide comparisons with the earlier days of the Medical Internet.

This article examines Internet's use for health purposes and its evolution via the latest survey carried out by the Health On the Net Foundation (HON) on its Web site in May/June 1998 [4].



Clear statements were proposed implying only answers by checking boxes. In addition to the five existing statements in previous surveys, the May/June 1998 survey [5] has included the following one:

I have found useful medical/health information on the Internet in my primary language.

In addition to basic-users-related questions (primary Internet access place, primary occupation, the gender, years on the Internet, age and location), the May/June 98 survey has also asked the following user-related question:

Are you consulting or receiving medical/health information via?
a) the Web
b) discussion list(s)
c) newsgroup(s)
d) E-mail/spamming
e) none of them.

Survey medium

Surveys are conducted over the Web only, i.e. participants respond to questionnaires posted on the Web and available on-line on the HON Foundation web site.

Type of sampling

HON's Surveys employ non-probalistic sampling. We cannot ensure that the respondents are representative of the total medical/health web users. Due to Web surveying it is quite impossible to select candidate from a database of known users like the phone book for example. Participants are solicited in the following manner:
  1. Announcements and postage on Internet newgroups such as,,, fr.misc.droit.internet,, etc. and newsletters such as Nouvelles de l'Internet Médical, etc.
  2. Announcements made to the mailing lists MEDWEBMASTERS-L and Hospital-webmaster (a list maintained by the Health On the Net Foundation composed of people interested in the future of Internet technologies in the health/medical domain mainly in the Hospitals).
  3. Links to the survey from health/medical related web sites such as PharmInfo, MediConsult, Esculape, etc.

Period of validity of answers - Duration of the survey.

Surveys have been conducted approximatively every six months. The first one has been conducted in February/March 1997, the second in August/September 1997 and the third in May/June 1998. During two months the survey is accessible on the Web; past this expiration date, the survey's questionnaire is no longer available and answers are not taken into account.
A sample of the questionnaire [6] is available on-line.



1863 persons have answered the survey on the Health On the Net Foundation Web site. It is worth mentioning that a larger percentage of patients have responded to this survey than before: about 53% against 38% for the second and 35% for the first survey. An impressive shift may be observed in the sex of the respondents. 57% were women, whereas in the first and second surveys this percentage was 37% and 40% respectively. The results can be divided into three sections:

a. Respondents believe that 32% of physicians and 22% of nurses use Internet services. But they have no opinion on the use of Internet services for 50% of physicians and 57% of nurses.

b. From this survey, a particular result was astonishing: 93% of respondents found the medical/health information on the Net useful, 83% found it in their primary language and 68% said that it was easy to find.

c. 53% of the total participants believe that there is a need to enhance the medical/health in formation on the Net and 37% have no opinion.

This survey have raised few questions:

Who health people are getting information for?

Where medical professionals are accessing the Net from/by region?

How the quality of information on the Net is perceived?

Is the information easy to find?

The detailed result of the Mai/June 98 Survey on the evolution of the Internet usage for medical/health purposes can be found at [4].


Discussion and Conclusions

Other general purpose surveys on the Internet have been performed [7] and have shown that the user panel of medical information on the Net is more limited than the user panel of the general global Internet, both however following the general evolution. The main differences between them are the user panel:

- Global internet result [7]: a continued increase in the proportion of female users (38.7%) which are for the majority (62.9%) new users (less than one year) and more likely to be under 20 or over 50 years old.
- HON medical result: 73% of the respondents use the Net from their home, average age is about 45 years, and 58% are female with 40% having used the Internet for less than one year.

Individuals and patients are not aware of the usage by the health/medical professionals of the Internet to communicate and access information (see results under a.). There has nonetheless been a shift in comparison to the previous survey where respondants replied that most physicians and nurses do not use the Internet services. Repondants also believe that 32% of physicians and 22% of nurses use it. And one can point out that these figures correspond to those obtained in the previous survey, thus reinforcing their validity.

This analysis shows that valuable medical/health information is provided on the Web and it is more and more accessible due to the improvement of dedicated search engines (such as [8]), the diversification of Web use and the languages used. Nevertheless, the quality still has to be enhanced (see results under b. and c.). The core requirement is the assessment, the control and the assurance of the quality of information available on the Web and other on-line services [9, 10].
The detailed result of the survey can be found at [4].



Health On the Net Foundation would like to express their gratitude to all the people having participated in this survey.



[5] C. Boyer, M. Selby, V. Baujard and R.D. Appel, "Medical Information on the Internet: who wants what? , "European Congress of the Internet in Medicine, MedNet97, November 1997, Brighton, UK,
[9] W. M. Silberg, G. D. Lundberg, R. A. Musacchio, "Assessing, Controlling, and Assuring the Quality of Medical Information on the Internet," Journal of the American Medical Association - JAMA-, vol. 277, no. 15, pp. 1244-1245, Apr.15, 1997.


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MEDNET 98 - The Third Annual World Congress on the Internet in Medicine
Electronic Poster EP8
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Last Update: 09/11/1998
Célia Boyer

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