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Health care IT: Patients who don't seek health info online 'increasingly left behind'

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Consumers who don't seek health information online could be at risk of missing the latest and most relevant information, the Center for Studying Health System Change says in a study released last month.

While the number of consumers turning to the Internet for health information has surged in recent years, 50 million Americans last year sought health information but didn't go online, according to a study from a nonprofit public policy research group.

Consumers who don't seek health information online could be at risk of missing the latest and most relevant information, the Center for Studying Health System Change says in a study released last month.

"These consumers may find themselves increasingly left behind as many new, valuable sources of health information-such as hospital and physician quality reports-are released solely through online channels," the study says.

The study shows that an increasing number of Americans sought information about a health concern last year, with the Internet not surprisingly being the fastest-growing source of health information. Last year, 56 percent of American adults sought information about a personal health concern from a source other than their physician, up from 38 percent in 2001.

Thirty-two percent looked for health information on the Internet, up from 16 percent in 2001, according to the study. Use of the Internet for health information is now at about the same level as use of more traditional resources, such as books, magazines, and newspapers (33 percent) and friends and relatives (31 percent). "These information sources are neither mutually exclusive nor independent of one another," the study says.

Regardless of where they seek it, the more educated the consumer, the more likely they are to look for health information, according to the study. In 2007, 72 percent of people with a graduate-school degree sought health information, while only 42 percent of those without a high school diploma did.

Among consumers who sought out health information, more than half later discussed it with their doctors and about half said the information changed their approach to maintaining their own health.

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