Error message

The page you requested does not exist. For your convenience, a search was performed using the query about us interactive decision month 2016 01.

Page not found

You are here

MD vs. WebMD: The Internet in Medical Decisions (Dec-10)

With just a simple search term and a click of the mouse, a person can find a large amount of health information on the Internet. What role does the Internet play in how patients make medical decisions? Does using the Internet as a source for information to help patients make informed decisions vary by health condition? Does the Internet substitute for detailed discussions with a health care provider?

Consider the following:

Imagine that you recently visited your health care provider for an annual physical examination. During the exam your doctor told you that you are at the age where you should start thinking about getting a screening test for colon cancer. In this conversation your health care provider explained some of the reasons why you should get screened. At the end of the visit, you had more information about screening tests for colon cancer but had not yet decided whether or not you wanted to get tested.

As you think about how you would make a decision about whether or not to get screened for colon cancer:
How important is your health care provider as a source of information about screening tests for colon cancer?
Not at all important (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) Extremely important
Would you use, or have someone else use for you, the Internet to find information on screening tests for colon cancer?
  • Yes
  • No
  • Don't know
How important is the Internet as a source of information screening tests for colon cancer?
Not at all important (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) Extremely important

How do your answers compare?

In a recent study published in the journal Medical Decision Making, CBSSM investigators Brian Zikmund-FisherMick Couper, and Angela Fagerlin examined Internet use and perceived importance of different sources of information by patients making specific medical decisions.

In this study, US adults aged 40 years and older were asked about how they got information about 9 common medical decisions, including decisions about common prescription medication (for high blood pressure, cholesterol, and depression), cancer-screening tests (for colorectal, breast, and prostate cancer), and elective surgeries (for lower back pain, cataracts, and knee/hip replacement). In addition, they study compared participants' ratings of the Internet as a source of information with their ratings of other sources, such as their health care provider.

So, how did your responses compare to the average adult in this study's population?

Results from this study showed that most patients did not use the Internet to make specific medical decisions like the ones you considered. On average, about 26% of participants made use of the Internet for information to make decisions about colon cancer screening tests and about 47% used it to inform a decision about lower back pain surgery.

Among participants who chose to use the Internet for finding information about specific medical decisions, data show that Internet use varies significantly across different types of medical decisions. Internet users were more likely to use the Internet for information related to elective surgery (36%), such as lower back pain surgery, and prescription medication (32%) than for cancer-screening decisions (22%), such as colon cancer screening.

Another element of this study looked at participants' ratings of different information sources. You are unlike other participants in this study in that you did not consistently rate health care providers as the most important source for information about colon cancer screening and lower back pain surgery. The CBSSM study found that, for both Internet users and nonusers, health care providers were rated highest as a source for information for all 9 decisions studied. Among Internet users, however, the Internet was rated as their 2nd-most important source of information.

The researchers found that Internet use to inform specific medical decisions varied by age ranging from 38% for those aged 40 to 49 years to 14% for those aged 70 years or older. Approximately 33% of 50 to 59 year olds used the Internet to make these medical decisions and 24% for those in the 60 to 69 year age category. This result is consistent with previous research on the demographics of Internet use.

The study authors concluded that the Internet has an impact on people's access to health care information; however, "the data suggest that access is not the same as use, and use for one medical decision does not imply use for all health decisions." In other words, people use the Internet differently depending on the context. The authors end by stating, "Clinicians, health educators, and health policy makers need to be aware that we remain a long way away from having Internet-based information sources universally used by patients to improve and support the process of medical decision making."

For the full text of this article:

Couper M, Singer E, Levin CA, Fowler F, Fagerlin A, Zikmund-Fisher BJ. Use of the internet and ratings of information sources for medical decisions: Results from the DECISIONS survey. Medical Decision Making 2010;30:106S-114S.


Sarah Hawley, PhD, MPH


Dr. Sarah T. Hawley is a Professor in the Division of General Medicine at the University of Michigan and a Research Investigator at the Ann Arbor VA Center of Excellence in Health Services Research & Development. She holds a PhD in health services research from the University of North Carolina and an MPH from Yale University Department of Public Health. Her primary research is in decision making related to cancer prevention and control, particularly among racial/ethnic minority and underserved populations.

Last Name: 

Funded by Health and Human Services, Department of-National Institutes of Health

Funding Years: 2014 - 2016.

Nearly 800,000 people suffer a stroke each year in the US and the cost of stroke reaches $105 billion annually. Stroke is also a leading cause of disability in the US. Post-stroke disability is dramatically reduced among patients who receive tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). For clinical effectiveness, tPA must be administered within 4.5 hours from the start of stroke symptoms. Unfortunately, tPA is vastly underutilized with about 3% of stroke patients receiving tPA. The majority of patients fail to receive tPA because they arrive to the hospital after the treatment time window has elapsed (this barrier to tPA administration is known as prehospital delay). Researchers have shown that if 911 were called at the time of stroke onset, over 28% of all stroke patients would receive tPA. Therefore, translational research to increase stroke preparedness (defined as the ability to recognize stroke warning signs and call 911 immediately) is urgently needed. However, the field of stroke preparedness is severely limited by the absence of intermediate end points to test behavioral interventions. Before embarking on large scale, expensive, community intervention trials, phase 2 studies using intermediate end points are needed. An intermediate end point allows for testing of several interventions (phase 2 studies) before deciding on the most promising intervention that warrants phase 3 testing. Intermediate end points also facilitate testing interventions for selected populations such as high risk groups like racial/ethnic minorities or those with low socioeconomic status, rather than an entire community. In this project, we will develop and validate a psychometrically rigorous test of stroke preparedness using video vignettes - the video stroke action test (video-STAT). Because of the increased burden of stroke among African Americans, Hispanics and those with low socioeconomic status, we will oversample from these groups in development and validating of the video-STAT. At completion of this study, an innovative stroke preparedness intermediate end point will be created and critical steps toward validating it will be performed. As the US population ages, stroke will only claim more victims and at greater expense to individuals, families and society. It is critical that we rapidly develop rigorous scientific interventions that increase delivery of acute stroke therapy to decrease post-stroke disability and reduce the enormous impact of this devastating disease.

PI(s): Lesli Skolarus, Lewis Morgenstern

Co-I(s): Brisa Sanchez

Funded by the National Institutes of Health

Funding years: 2011-2015

Colorectal cancer has a major impact on Americans, yet its screening rate remains suboptimal. This study aims to improve colorectal cancer screening rate by using an innovative and interactive decision aid that helps patients choose among colorectal cancer screening options. The study will also elucidate how patients and physicians discuss colorectal cancer screening options. for more information visit NIH Reporter.

PI: Masahito Jimbo

Co-I: Sarah Hawley

Funded by NIH - Department of Health and Human Services

Funding Years: 2011-2016

The MROC Study seeks to evaluate and compare from the patient's point of view the leading options for breast reconstruction after mastectomy. This study will help patients, physicians, payers and policy makers better understand the various surgeries available for breast reconstruction. Although many women choose reconstruction, the number of options as well as their pros and cons can make decision making difficult and stressful. From this research, we hope to learn more about what works best for patients undergoing these operations.

PI: Edwin Wilkins

Co-I(s): H. Myra Kim

2016 Bishop Lecture featuring William Dale, MD, PhD

Wed, April 27, 2016, 10:30am
Founders Room, Alumni Center, 200 Fletcher St., Ann Arbor, MI

The 2016 Bishop Lecture in Bioethics was presented by William Dale, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine; Chief, Section of Geriatrics & Palliative Medicine; and Director, Specialized Oncology Care & Research in the Elderly (SOCARE) Clinic at the University of Chicago. Dr. Dale presented, "Why Do We So Often Overtreat, Undertreat, and Mistreat Older Adults with Cancer?" The Bishop Lecture served as the keynote address during the CBSSM Research Colloquium.

Abstract: The US health care system is being confronted with the consequences of aging as the baby-boomers join Social Security and Medicare, with cancer care front-and-center.  Two recent IOM reports, Retooling for an Aging America and Delivering High-Quality Cancer Care: Charting a New Course for a System in Crisis, highlight these intersecting areas.  Delivering high quality care for older adults with cancer, at an affordable cost, in a transforming health delivery system will be addressed from a personal, clinical, and policy perspective.

William Dale, MD, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Medicine and the Section Chief of Geriatrics & Palliative Medicine at the University of Chicago, with a secondary appointment in Hematology/Oncology.  He is a board-certified internist and geriatrician with a doctorate in health policy. He completed his medical and graduate school training at the University of Chicago, did his residency in internal medicine and fellowship in geriatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, and then returned to the University of Chicago.

Dr. Dale has devoted his career to the care of older adults with cancer.  In 2006, He established, and now co-directs, the Specialized Oncology Care & Research in the Elderly (SOCARE) Clinic at the University of Chicago. SOCARE offers interdisciplinary, individualized, and integrated treatment for older cancer patients. It provides a special environment for addressing the issues relevant to older cancer patients and their loved ones and integrating research into this special clinic environment.

Dr. Dale is an international speaker who has published over 50 papers in top journals on medical decision making, behavioral economics, quality of life, and frailty assessment in older adults, particularly those with cancer. He and his team have shown the important role emotions like anxiety play in medical decisions for older adults. He has received grants from the National Institute on Aging (NIA), National Cancer Institute (NCI), American Cancer Society, and the Foundation of Informed Medical Decision Making. With NIH funding, he has co-led a series of national conferences with international experts on geriatric-oncology.  He is a co-investigator for the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP), a survey and biomeasure collection on the health, well-being, and social life of over 3,000 older adults.

  • Click here for video-recording of the 2016 Bishop Lecture

Funded by National Institutes of Health; National Institute on Aging

Funding Years; 2011-2016

A cornerstone of the nation's social science research infrastructure, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) is a longitudinal survey of a nationally representative sample of U.S. families. Begun in 1968, 36 waves of data have now been collected on PSID families and their descendents. Its long-term measures of economic and social wellbeing have spurred researchers and policy makers to attend to the fundamental dynamism inherent in social and behavioral processes. The PSID is increasingly being used to answer innovative social and behavioral research questions in the context of an aging society. This application proposes to collect, process, and disseminate three modules in the 2013 and 2015 waves of the PSID: 1. Health module: Including 15 minutes of survey questions on health status, health behaviors, health insurance coverage & health care costs. Linkages to the National Death Index and Medicare will be extended; 2. Wealth module: Including 10 minutes of survey questions on wealth, active savings, and pensions. Linkage to Social Security earnings and benefits records for active sample and decedents will be undertaken for the first time, and a new module to minimize errors in reports of wealth changes will be developed and implemented; and 3. Wellbeing module with related psychosocial measures: We will design and implement a mixed-mode (web/mail out) questionnaire to collect content from both respondents and spouses about their wellbeing and related psychosocial measures (e.g., personality, intelligence), with an experiment to identify (and allow researchers to adjust for if necessary) mode effects. After collection, the data will be processed and distributed in the PSID Online Data Center, which will allow users to create customized extracts and codebooks using a cross-year variable index.

PI(s): Robert Schoeni

Co-I(s): Charles Brown, James House, Mick Couper

Bioethics Grand Rounds

Wed, September 28, 2016, 12:00pm
UH Ford Amphitheater & Lobby

Carl Schneider, JD -- “Can Informed-Consent Laws Work? Evaluating Compelled Disclosure as a Method of Regulation”

Abstract: The law of informed consent is an example of a form of legal regulation called mandated disclosure.  In such regulation, one party to a transaction is required to give the other party to the transaction information to use in making decisions about the parties’ relationship.  There are hundreds of examples of such legal rules besides medical informed consent. This talk asks how well these rules have worked outside medicine. It concludes that there is little evidence that those rules ever work, explores some of the reasons for this surprising failure, and asks what the failure of mandated disclosure outside medicine tells us about the success of informed-consent laws in medicine.

Michael Fetters has been named a 2016 Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Social Sciences. He will spend five months in Beijing teaching and leading a joint research project with colleagues at Peking University Health Science Center (PUHSC), U-M's partner school in the Joint Institute for Translational and Clinical Research.

Read More.

Funded by: NIH

Funding Years: 2016-2020

In the past 30 years, the Incidence of thyroid cancer has tripled. The majority of the rise in thyroid cancer incidence is attributed to an increase in low-risk, well-differentiated thyroid cancer, a disease that has a 10-year mortality close to zero. Our previous work suggests that patients with low-risk thyroid cancer are at risk for overtreatment, defined as the use of Surgical and medical interventions in the absence of a clear survival benefit. The overtreatment of thyroid cancer has inherent costs, both to patient health and to society. The reason for the intensive management and potential overtreatment of low-risk thyroid cancer remains unclear. By using SEER-linked patient and physician Surveys, we plan to understand the Treatment decision making in low-risk thyroid cancer. We hypothesize that knowledge and attitudes influence decision making. Specifically, we anticipate that lack of knowledge of risks of death, recurrence and Treatment complications is associated with Treatment that is more intensive. in addition, we postulate that a general preference for active treatment will also be associated with more intensive cancer Treatment. Although both patient and physician perceptions of Treatment need (i.e., knowledge and attitudes) likely contribute to Treatment intensity, we anticipate that the primary driver will be physicians, even after controlling for their patients' perceptions. This study will serve as the foundation for future Intervention studies. By identifying the specific role of physician and patient knowledge and attitudes toward thyroid cancer Treatment, we will be able to create tailored educational interventions to personalize Surgical and medical care for thyroid cancer patients, thus minimizing overtreatment and its inherent risks and costs. As the rising Incidence, low mortality, and pattern of intensive Treatment make thyroid cancer arguably the best cancer model for overtreatment, this proposed study will also serve as a model to understand overtreatment in other malignancies.

PI: Megan Haymart

CO(s): Brian J. Zikmund-Fisher, PhD & Sarah Hawley, PhD. MPH