Open Access Research article

Surfing the internet for health information: an italian survey on use and population choices

Roberta Siliquini1*, Michele Ceruti2, Emanuela Lovato2, Fabrizio Bert2, Stefania Bruno3, Elisabetta De Vito4, Giorgio Liguori5, Lamberto Manzoli6, Gabriele Messina7, Davide Minniti8 and Giuseppe La Torre9

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health - University of Turin - Turin, Italy

2 School of Specialization in Public Health - Department of Public Health - University of Turin - Turin, Italy

3 Institute of Hygiene - University of Sacred Heart of Rome - Rome, Italy

4 Department Health and Sport Science - University of Cassino - Cassino, Italy

5 Chair of Epidemiology and Hygiene, Department of Studies of Institutions and Territorial Systems, University "Parthenope" of Naples - Naples, Italy

6 Section of Epidemiology and Public Health - University "G. D'Annunzio" of Chieti - Chieti, Italy

7 Department of Public Health, Health Service Research Laboratory - University of Siena - Siena, Italy

8 Health Service Organization - Rivoli Hospital - Rivoli (Turin), Italy

9 Department of Public Health and Infectious Diseases -University "Sapienza" of Rome - Rome, Italy

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 2011, 11:21  doi:10.1186/1472-6947-11-21

Published: 7 April 2011



Recent international sources have described how the rapid expansion of the Internet has precipitated an increase in its use by the general population to search for medical information. Most studies on e-health use investigated either through the prevalence of such use and the social and income patterns of users in selected populations, or the psychological consequences and satisfaction experienced by patients with particular diseases. Few studies have been carried out in Europe that have tried to identify the behavioral consequences of Internet use for health-related purposes in the general population.

The aims of this study are to provide information about the prevalence of Internet use for health-related purposes in Italy according to demographic and socio-cultural features, to investigate the impact of the information found on health-related behaviors and choices and to analyze any differences based on health condition, self-rated health and relationships with health professionals and facilities.


A multicenter survey was designed within six representative Italian cities. Data were collected through a validated questionnaire administered in hospital laboratories by physicians. Respondents were questioned about their generic condition, their use of the Internet and their health behaviors and choices related to Internet use. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics and logistic regression to assess any differences by socio-demographic and health-related variables.


The sample included 3018 individuals between the ages of 18 and 65 years. Approximately 65% of respondents reported using the Internet, and 57% of them reported using it to search for health-related information. The main reasons for search on the Internet were faster access and a greater amount of information. People using the Internet more for health-related purposes were younger, female and affected by chronic diseases.


A large number of Internet users search for health information and subsequently modify their health behaviors and relationships with their medical providers. This may suggest a strong public health impact with consequences in all European countries, and it would be prudent to plan educational and prevention programs. However, it could be important to investigate the quality of health-related websites to protect and inform users.

Cross-sectional; Health; Internet; Behavior