Use of Online Health Information by Geriatric and Adult Emergency Department Patients: Access, Understanding, and Trust

Grant Scott, Danielle M. McCarthy, Amer Z. Aldeen, Alyssa Czerniak, D. Mark Courtney, Scott M. Dresden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Scopus citations


Objective: The objective was to characterize geriatric patients’ use of online health information (OHI) relative to younger adults and assess their comfort ith OHI compared to health information (HI) from their physician. Methods: This was a prospective cross-sectional survey study of adult emergency department (ED) patients. The survey assessed patients’ self-reported use of OHI in the past year and immediately prior to ED visit and analyzed differences across four age groups: 18–39, 40–64, 65–74, and 75+. Patients’ ability to access, understand, and trust OHI was assessed using a 7-point Likert scale and compared to parallel questions regarding HI obtained from their doctor. Patient use of OHI was compared across age groups. Comfort with OHI and HI obtained from a doctor was compared across age groups using the Kruskal-Wallis test. Comparisons between sources of HI were made within age groups using the Wilcoxon signed-rank test. Results: Of 889 patients who were approached for study inclusion, 723 patients (81.3%) completed the survey. The majority of patients had used OHI in the past year in all age groups, but older patients were less likely to have used OHI: age 18–39, 90.3%; 40–64, 85.3%; 65–74, 76.4%; and 75+, 50.7% (p < 0.001). The youngest patients were most likely to have used OHI prior to coming to the ED, 47.1%, 28.3%, 17.1%, and 8.0% (p < 0.001). Older patients were more likely to have an established doctor—18–39, 79.4%; 40–64, 91.1%; 65–74, 97.5%; and 75+ 97.4% (p < 0.001)—and were more likely to have contacted their doctor prior to their ED visit: 36.7, 40.2, 46.7, and 53.5% (p = 0.02). The oldest patients were most likely to find HI more accessible from their doctor than the Internet, while the youngest patients found HI more accessible on the Internet than from their doctor. Regardless of age, patients noted that information from their physician was both easier to understand and more trustworthy than information found on the Internet. Conclusion: Although many older patients used OHI, they were less likely than younger adults to use the Internet immediately prior to an ED visit. Despite often using OHI, patients of all age groups found healthcare information from their doctor easier to understand and more trustworthy than information from the Internet. As health systems work to efficiently provide information to patients, addressing these perceived deficiencies may be necessary to build effective OHI programs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)796-802
Number of pages7
JournalAcademic Emergency Medicine
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine

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