The use of the internet for health purposes is increasing across the continent, a survey of seven European countries has found.
Northern European countries led the use of the internet for health, followed by Eastern and Southern Europe.
Of 7,022 interviewed over the telephone in Norway, Denmark, Germany, Poland, Latvia, Greece and Portugal, over half said they use the internet for health research.
The survey found the total number of internet health users increased from 44% in 2005 to 54% in 2007.
The research, published by the Norwegian Centre for Telemedicine, found that internet health use increased in each of the seven European countries surveyed. Part of the increase is attributed to more people having access to the internet – which increased from 71% to 83%,
Authors Hege Andreassen, Tove Sørensen and Per Egil Kummervold write: “The use of the internet for health purposes is growing in all seven countries included in the study. As expected, the northern European countries are topping the list of active internet health users. The second most active are the east Europeans, where as the southern European population is less active.”
The researchers claim that growth is strongest in the poorer regions of the continent, indicating a desire for patients to take control of their own health.
“The largest relative growth of internet health users is found in eastern and southern Europe, meaning that we observe a tendency that the digital divide might be slightly diminishing in the field of e-health. The number of users in Poland is almost as high as the average was in northern Europe 18-months ago.
“This might indicate that the use of the internet for health purposes will develop as usage spreads from the early adopters of the internet, and becomes common in the general population.”
The growth in internet usage for healthcare is welcomed by the researchers and they call for more factors to be considered to promote this increase.
“As social disparities in health seem to be overlapping with the digital divide, this knowledge should be taken into consideration in future strategies and action plans for e-health.”
The researchers urge policy makers to consider the internet as a tool for shaping future health services. “The internet should be considered an important tool for policy makers shaping the future health care service. However, it will be crucial to consider carefully how to exploit the media, in order not to consolidate or create new inequalities in health in Europe.”
They Norwegian researchers recommend further studies in this field, particularly focusing on which kind of health services might be provided through the internet, and the characteristics of target groups that could benefit the most from internet-based health services.