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New Report Indicates Changes in How Americans Get Their Information about Health and Cancer

Among a growing number of Americans seeking general health information and information about cancer, the Internet remains a frequent first source, even though the publicís trust in online material about health has declined, reports a government study. At the same time, consumers voiced greater confidence in information received from healthcare professionals. The report, Cancer Communication: Health Information National Trends Survey 2003 and 2005, is based on data from the Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS), a survey done every other year and sponsored by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health.

First conducted in 2003, HINTS surveys the U.S. civilian, adult population, to assess trends in the usage of health information over time and to study the links among cancer-related communication, knowledge, attitudes, and behavior. The randomly dialed telephone survey recorded the responses of over 6,300 people in 2003, and more than 5,500 people in 2005.

The newly issued report provides a snapshot of how Americans are responding to changes in access to information and the abundance of health information. The data show a growing preference toward receiving health information — whether cancer-related or other health information — from a health care provider than from other sources, such as printed materials, friends and family, information specialists, and the Internet.

Use of the Internet as a source for cancer-specific information remained relatively unchanged during the study period. However, the number of people using the Internet to communicate with their healthcare provider, or their provider's office — e-mailing questions or setting up appointments through a website — increased from 7 percent in 2003 to 10 percent in 2005.

Use of the Internet to obtain health information about topics other than cancer increased from 2003 to 2005. In 2003, 51 percent of respondents reported looking for health information for themselves and 46 percent reported seeking information for someone else. In 2005, the number of people seeking information for others increased to 60 percent, with 58 percent seeking information for themselves.

Women were more likely to search for cancer information from all sources than men, and people aged 50 to 64 most frequently searched for cancer-specific information. Younger or more educated people were more frequent users of the Internet for health information.

"The survey is not only a surveillance tool, but can be used to study relationships of how knowledge about health care is dependent on channels of communication," said Bradford Hesse, Ph.D., chief of NCI's Health Communication and Informatics Research Branch.

The researchers also looked at changes in cancer knowledge and beliefs, and worked with statisticians and geographic information systems specialists to create maps to visualize regional geographic variation, much like a weather map. These maps are created by using information from neighboring states to provide information for areas with relatively small sample sizes. The maps in this report will allow researchers and healthcare providers to visually identify areas of the country in need of improved — or targeted — health communication. The maps also illustrate knowledge about breast and colorectal cancer screening recommendations, as well as general knowledge about the human papillomavirus (HPV), cervical cancer, and lung cancer. The maps, as well as the data from both the 2003 and 2005 HINTS surveys, are available to researchers and healthcare providers throughout the country to utilize in their own programs and planning.

"Population-based surveys such as HINTS give us a rich source of knowledge about the awareness of the American public," said NCI Director John E. Niederhuber, M.D. "Our next step must be to research how best to translate newfound understandings of patterns and preferences into better ways of educating and serving all of our patients through cancer prevention, screening, treatment and survivorship."

"The HINTS survey reflects NCI's commitment to public data sharing and dissemination by making the science of cancer communication easily accessible to multiple audiences," said Robert Croyle, Ph.D., director of NCI's Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, which oversees the HINTS project. "The survey provides an invaluable snapshot of how adults use the myriad of information resources around them to learn about cancer"

For more information about cancer, please visit the NCI website at http://www.cancer.gov, or call NCI's Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4 CANCER (1-800-422-6237).

For more information about the Health Information National Trend Survey, please visit http://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/hints.

For more information on the Geographical Information Systems (GIS) the techniques used in this reporter, please visit http://srab.cancer.gov/headbang/

For more information about the NCI Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, please visit http://cancercontrol.cancer.gov

Reference: Rutten LF, Moser RP, Beckjord EB, Hesse BW, Croyle RT. (2007) Cancer Communication: Health Information National Trends Survey. Washington, D.C.: National Cancer Institute.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.


Reference: Rutten LF, Moser RP, Beckjord EB, Hesse BW, Croyle RT. (2007) Cancer Communication: Health Information National Trends Survey. Washington, D.C.: National Cancer Institute.
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