Canadians see Internet as good for what ails them

Forget what you thought: Canadians aren’t just looking for bad jokes and ebay scores on the Internet.

According to the 2002 Canadian [email protected] Reid Report, based on two thousand phone and online interviews, looking for online health information is the No. 1 Web activity among Canadians of

all ages.

Ipsos Reid Corp. reports that more Canadians go online to look up health info (66 per cent) than conduct banking (49 per cent), shop (43 per cent), or even send joke e-mails (59 per cent).

The interest in health information has increased significantly since the fall of 2000, the last time this survey was conducted, when 55 per cent of Canadians reported turning to the Net for it.

The study also shows that women are far more likely than men to research health information online, a statistic that rings true with Canadian Women’s Health Network Web site coordinator Ghislane Alleyne. In the two and a half years that Alleyne has worked with the CWHN, she’s seen traffic skyrocket from 90,000 hits a month to about 270,000.

She says the increase in interest has led the CWHN to re-consider the role of its Web site. Originally an afterthought for the organization, its marginal role quickly changed.

“”It’s become recognized that the Web site is our primary window to the world,”” Alleyne says. “”We even get a lot of e-mails internationally asking for information.””

Women are searching for answers about specific illnesses and conditions, she says. There are requests for general wellness information as well, but they’re encountered less frequently.

The poll bares out the CWHN’s experience. Eighty one per cent of survey respondents said they had visited a site with information on diseases, prevention and cures. A smaller number of Canadians (51 per cent) searched for nutritional information and fewer still (35 per cent) looked up information on prescription drugs.

The poll also showed that health care information is the leading cause people aged 55 and older are getting online. In fact, their participation rate (64 per cent) in this category is quite close to the 35-54 year old group. The former tie with the 18-34 year old crowd; 67 per cent of them get online to look for health answers.

The younger subset, particularly teenagers, are surfing on, reports the site’s coordinator of the contraception project, Lisa Spencer. Although the site does not keep tabs on who is using it — because of the sensitive nature of much of its material — voluntary responses have indicated that young people are turning to it more than anyone else.

The age of the users provides good clues to why people are choosing to look up health information in this way, Spencer says. Many health concerns, especially when dealing with sexuality, have to do with things either considered taboo or embarrassing by society.

“”The anonymity factor of a Web site is hugely important,”” she says.

The time factor plays is an important part of the equation as well, Spencer adds.

“”And especially the way the health-care system is these days,”” she says. “”If they need an answer right away, a Web site is a perfect way for them to get it.””

Both Alleyne and Spencer say that their Web sites advise users to consult their physicians in cases of actual emergency or if they need diagnostic advice.

“”A Web site can only do so much and nothing replaces the advice of your healthcare provider,”” says Spencer.

Health Canada has also made online delivery of health information a priority. The Health Canada component of the national Government On-Line strategy names provision of health-related information as one of its key mandates.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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