Healthy online outlook


17 Apr 2003

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Nearly one in four Europeans (23pc) uses the internet to get health information, a survey published yesterday by the European Commission has found.

The picture varies considerably, though, between countries. In Denmark and the Netherlands around 40pc of people use the internet for health information, while in Ireland, Greece, Spain, Portugal and France usage is at 15pc or less. Health professionals, such as doctors and pharmacists, are still by far the most important source of health information for Europeans, the survey found.

“This survey shows that there is a clear demand for online health information among Europe’s citizens, but it also highlights issues of trust,” says Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne. “A large number of Europeans are still unaware of the amount and reliability of health information that can be found on the web. The EU, via the Public Health Action Programme and the e-Health initiative, is working to ensure that Europeans have access to high quality, useful and trustworthy online health information.”

Improving health information and knowledge is one of the priorities of the EU’s €312m Public Health Action Programme for 2003-2008 launched by Commissioner Byrne last month. Under the EU’s e-Health initiative, the commission has issued a recommendation on quality criteria for health websites.

One of the key findings of the survey is that 41pc of Europeans think the internet is a good way to get information about health.

Fergal Bowers, editor of Irishhealth.com, welcomes the results of the survey. “There is a big demand for online health information,” he says. “We see that it is going to grow even further. In particular, in relation to health, people can access information quickly and privately online. They want reliable health information any time, day or night, and I think that is really where the web wins out over other traditional media.” Irishhealth.com currently has 62,000 hits a month, with 2,500 hits daily.

By Lisa Deeney