Online health information seeking in the context of the medical consultation in switzerland

Maria Caiata-Zufferey, Andrea Abraham, Kathrin Sommerhalder, Peter J. Schulz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

119 Scopus citations


A growing number of patients search for medical information on the Internet. Understanding how they use the Internet is important, as this might impact their health, patient-practitioner roles, and general health care provision. In this article, we illustrate the motives of online health information seeking in the context of the doctor-patient relationship in Switzerland. We conducted semistructured interviews with patients who searched for health information online before or after a medical consultation. Findings suggest that patients searched for health information online to achieve the goals of preparing for the consultation, complementing it, validating it, and/or challenging its outcome. The initial motivations for online health information seeking are identified in the needs for acknowledgment, reduction of uncertainty, and perspective. Searching health information online was also encouraged by personal and contextual factors, that is, a person's sense of self-responsibility and the opportunity to use the Internet. Based on these results, we argue that online health information seeking is less concerned with what happens during the consultation than with what happens before or after it, in the sociocultural context.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1050-1061
Number of pages12
JournalQualitative Health Research
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2010


  • Internet
  • grounded theory
  • health care
  • patient participation
  • relationships


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