Association of searching for health-related information online with self-rated health in the European Union

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Abstract

Background: The Internet is widely accessed for health information, but poor quality information may lead to health-worsening behaviours (e.g. non-compliance). Little is known about the health of individuals who use the Internet for health information. Methods: Using the Flash Eurobarometer survey 404, European Union (EU) citizens aged ≥15 (n = 26 566) were asked about Internet utilisation for health information (‘general’ or ‘disease-specific’), the sources used, self-rated health, and socioeconomic variables. Multivariable logistic regression was employed to assess the likelihood of bad self-rated health and accessing different health information sources (social networks, official website, online newspaper, dedicated websites, search engines). Results: Those searching for general information were less likely to report bad health [odds ratios (OR) = 0.80; 95% confidence intervals (CI): 0.70–0.92], whilst those searching for disease-specific information were more likely (OR = 1.22; 95% CI: 1.07–1.38). Higher education and frequent doctor visits were associated with use of official websites and dedicated apps for health. Variation between EU member states in the proportion of people who had searched for general or disease-specific information online was high. Conclusions: Searching for general health information may be more conducive to better health, as it is easier to understand, and those accessing it may already be or looking to lead healthier lives. Disease-specific information may be harder to understand and assimilate into appropriate care worsening self-rated health. It may also be accessed if health services fail to meet individuals’ needs, and health status is currently poor. Ensuring individuals’ access to quality health services and health information will be key to addressing inequalities in health.

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