What is it about?

Online health information (OHI) has become ubiquitous, but little is known about its use by middle-aged and older adults. This is surprising, given that they potentially stand to gain from consulting OHI. This contribution examines the role of OHI and its influence on the patient–physician relationship. The data come from 40 interviews with middle-aged and older adults between the ages of 50 and 80 years in Flanders, Belgium.

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Why is it important?

Demographic projections by the United Nations estimate that the worldwide number of adults aged 60 years and over will double between 2015 and 2050 from 906 million to 2.08 billion . With societies graying, physicians welcoming more middle-aged and older adults in their offices, and the growing digitalization of everyday life and health care, it is both important and topical to understand middle-aged and older adults’ use of OHI and its influence on the patient–physician relationship. We find that middle-aged and older adults obtain OHI pre- and post-consultation, albeit with different motivations and in search of different types of information. Patients strategically and carefully introduce OHI in the clinical encounter. “Doctor Google” expands the traditional patient–physician dyad into an information triangle. The findings of this study have implications for policy guidance and clinical practice. Public campaigns against “Googling” for health information might have to be amended to be successful. Importantly, physicians are increasingly expected to refer to and appraise OHI and put it into the individual patient context.


As the world population ages, it is important to understand how older generations use the Internet to find health information. This study contributes to the knowledge we have about how middle-aged and older adults search for health and use the information they find in the encounter with their physician. We hope this article will help to better understand how these demographic groups use the Internet for health. We also hope this article might contribute to improving patient-physician communication.

Martijn Huisman
Universiteit Gent

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Searching for Health: Doctor Google and the Shifting Dynamics of the Middle-Aged and Older Adult Patient–Physician Relationship and Interaction, Journal of Aging and Health, September 2019, SAGE Publications, DOI: 10.1177/0898264319873809.
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