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U.S. Internet surfers want medical information, survey says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- More Americans surfing the Internet look for medical information than for sport scores, stock quotes or online shopping bargains, a group studying how the Internet affects people's lives said Sunday.

An estimated 52 million Americans have used the Internet to gain knowledge about diseases and treatment, investigate how to participate in clinical trials and find low-fat recipes, the group said in a report released Sunday.

The report "illustrates perhaps the most profound and dramatic impact the Internet is having on Americans," Lee Rainie, director of the The Pew Internet and American Life Project, said.

"In an era when the face time a patient gets with a doctor during an average appointment has dipped below 15 minutes, many are turning to the Web to get the information they crave," he added.

Most people seeking health material online do so at least once a month. Most are looking for guidance about battling a specific disease that afflicts themselves or someone they know, said the report, based on surveys of more than 12,000 people.

About 55 percent of all Internet users said they had sought health information. That outranks activities such as online shopping, done by 47 percent of Internet users, the report said.

About 41 percent of people polled said material found during their most recent online search affected decisions about whether they should go to the doctor, how to treat an illness or how to question a physician, the report said.

Nearly half of Internet users who have gone online for medical information said advice found there improved how they care for themselves.

The survey found that most people sought medical material through broad Internet searches and gleaned data from sites with which they were not familiar, leading the authors to suggest that doctors help point patients to reliable information.

Only 9 percent of people using the Web for health information said they had exchanged e-mails with their doctors, and 10 percent said they had filled prescriptions or bought dietary supplements online.

Many were concerned about privacy on the Internet, with 63 percent opposed to keeping medical records online, even at a password-protected site, because of fear that others might see the information.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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