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Int J Med Inform. 2012 Jan;81(1):61-72. doi: 10.1016/j.ijmedinf.2011.10.005. Epub 2011 Nov 11.

Internet skill-related problems in accessing online health information.

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University of Twente, Department of Media, Communication, and Organization, PO Box 7500 AE, Enschede, The Netherlands.



Despite the amount of health information available online, there are several barriers that limit the Internet from being adopted as a source of health information. The purpose of this study was to identify individual skill-related problems that users experience when accessing the Internet for health information and services.


Between November 2009 and February 2010, 88 subjects participated in a performance test in which participants had to complete health-related assignments on the Internet. Subjects were randomly selected from a telephone book. A selective quota sample was used and was divided over equal subsamples of gender, age, and education. Each subject was required to complete nine assignments on the Internet.


The general population experiences many Internet skill-related problems, especially those related to information and strategic Internet skills. Aging and lower levels of education seemed to contribute to the amount of operational and formal skill-related problems experienced. Saving files, bookmarking websites, and using search engines were troublesome for these groups of people. With respect to information skills, the higher the level of educational attainment, the less problems the participants experienced. Although younger subjects experienced far less operational and formal skill-related problems, it was revealed that older subjects were less likely to select and use irrelevant search results and unreliable sources. Concerning the strategic Internet skills it was revealed that older subjects were less likely to make inappropriate decisions based on information gathered.


The amount of online health-related information and services is consistently growing; however, it appears that the general population experiences many skill-related problems, particularly those related to information and strategic Internet skills, and they become very important when it comes to health. These skills are also problematic for younger generations who are often seen as skilled Internet users. The results of the study call for policies that account for low levels of Internet skills.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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