Open Access Open Badges Research article

The National Cancer Institute’s Health Information National Trends Survey [HINTS]: a national cross-sectional analysis of talking to your doctor and other healthcare providers for health information

Julie E Volkman12*, Tana M Luger1, Kimberly LL Harvey12, Timothy P Hogan12, Stephanie L Shimada123, Daniel Amante2, D Keith McInnes13, Hua Feng12 and Thomas K Houston12

Author Affiliations

1 eHealth Quality Enhancement Research Initiative, US Department of Veterans Affairs, 200 Springs Road, Bedford, MA 01730, USA

2 University of Massachusetts Medical School, 368 Plantation Street, Worcester, MA 01605, USA

3 Department of Health Policy and Management, Boston University School of Public Health, 715 Albany Street Talbot Building, T2W, Boston, MA 02118, USA

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BMC Family Practice 2014, 15:111  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-15-111

Published: 6 June 2014



The need to understand preferred sources of health information remains important to providing patient-centered care. The Internet remains a popular resource for health information, but more traditional sources may still be valid for patients during a recent health need. This study sought to understand the characteristics of patients that turn to their doctor or healthcare provider first for a recent health or medical information need.


Using the national cross-sectional survey, Health Information National Trend Study [HINTS], characteristics of those who sought a doctor or healthcare provider for a recent health information need were compared to other sources. Weighted survey responses from Cycle 1 and Cycle 2 of the HINTS survey were used for multivariable logistic regression.


A total 5,307 patient responses were analyzed. Overall, those who seek a doctor or healthcare provider first for a health need are female, 46–64 years, White non-Hispanic, educated, in good health and users of the Internet. Yet, adjusted logistic regressions showed that those who sought a doctor or healthcare provider first during a recent health information need compared to other sources were most likely to be 65+ years, in poor health, less educated and have health insurance.


Patients who seek their doctor or healthcare provider first for health information rather than other sources of information represent a unique population. Doctors or healthcare providers remain an important resource for these patients during recent needs, despite the wide use of the Internet as a source of health information.

Health information needs; Sources for health information; Doctor-patient communication; National cross-sectional survey