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J Med Internet Res. 2002 Dec;4(3):E19.

Unmet needs of primary care patients in using the Internet for health-related activities.

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  • 1Department of Community Health, Brown Medical School, The Miriam Hospital, Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine, Providence, RI 02903, USA.



Millions of people use the Internet as a source for health information yet little is understood about the use of the Internet for other health-related activities.


We conducted the present study to understand, among primary care patients, the interest in and experience with using the Internet for a variety of health-related activities.


Cross-sectional survey in the setting of 4 community-based primary care practices in Rhode Island. A single self-administered questionnaire included the following: 14 items measuring interest in using the Internet for a variety of health-related purposes, demographics, self-reported health status, and self-reported health care quality.


The survey was completed by 300 patients, 109 without access to the Internet and 191 with access to the Internet. Experiences with and attitudes about each of the health-related activities on the Internet varied widely across each activity. Regardless of access, patients were most interested in using the Internet for finding information about diseases and medications. However, patients with Internet access were more interested, compared to those without access, in each of the health-related activities on the Internet. Among patients with access to the Internet, the largest gap between interest and experience (the opportunity gap) was in using the Internet to investigate the quality of their care (eg, "find out if your health care provider was giving you all of the tests and treatments that you are due to have?") and administrative functions (eg, "schedule an appointment with your doctor?").


Much opportunity remains for developing health-related Internet Web sites to address the unmet needs of primary care patients.

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