Patients Are Using Internet for Interfertility Info, Providers Must Give Support

December 20, 2019

Providers could help patients whose needs are unmet find trustworthy resources on the internet.

Felicia Brochu, MSc

The internet plays an important role in accessing infertility information and support resources, according to the findings of a recent study.

First author Felicia Brochu, MSc, from the psychiatry department at McGill University in Canada, and a team of investigators surveyed 567 patients who were seeking infertility care to discover the factors—specifically demographic characteristics and distress—associated with searching the internet for infertility-related information and support. The investigators also sought to determine whether the resources met the needs of patients.

Although the internet plays an important role in the patients’ lives, distressed patients reported that despite high rates of searching, their needs were not always met. The new findings suggest that patients using the internet for this information could benefit from alternative sources of information and support or guidance from healthcare providers.

The self-reported email survey was given to men and women seeking infertility care at 4 fertility and urology clinics near Montreal and Toronto.

Phyllis Zelkowitz, EdD, from the psychiatry department at Jewish General Hospital in Canada, created the survey with her team and community stakeholders—reproductive health specialists and infertility patients. The survey contained questions addressing patients’ experiences and opinions towards sources of information and support, sociodemographic characteristics, and assessed the use of Web-based resources for accessing infertility information and support.

Questions to assess the internet resources included: “Have you searched online for information about infertility?”; “Did you look online for the following…?”; and “In general, did the information you found online meet your needs?”

A two-item Patient Health Questionnaire helped the investigators assess the level of depressive symptoms each patient experienced over a two-week period. Responses were rated on a four-point scale, and scores of at least 2 warranted additional clinical investigation for depression.

Stress was evaluated using the Perceived Stress Scale.

Of the 558 participants, 249 were men and 309 were women. The mean age was 36.53 years old and approximately half the participants were born in Canada and had an income below Canada $80,000 (approximately $61,000 USD).

A majority of participants (87.8%) searched the internet for health information about infertility. Those who used Web-based resources endorsed searching for 11 of 20 infertility-related topics. More women (93.9%) searched compared to men (80.3%; x21 =23.6; P <.001).

Patients with more education were more likely to search (x22=6.5; P = .04). Specifically, 89.4% of participants with a university degree or more, and 88% of participants with some pre-college or university degree searched the internet. There were fewer participants with a high school degree or less (76.65%) searched the internet.

Every participant endorsed searching for diagnostic information, while almost all endorsed searching for at least 1 item in the treatment information (90.4%) and services and providers (89.8%) categories. Nearly 65% searched for topics in the connections with others category.

Fewer than 30% of patients said that their needs were not met by Web-based information. Patients who reported unmet needs had higher perceived stress than those whose needs were met (mean 5.72, SD 2.85; t485=2.80; P =.005). Those with unmet needs also reported significantly more depressive symptomology compared to those with met needs (mean 1.28, SD 1.35; t482=2.18; P =.03).

Of those who said their needs were met (70.9%), the most common searches were about their diagnosis, treatment options and success rates, provincial healthcare coverage, how to find peer support, and how to discuss treatment with family or friends.

Providers could help certain infertility patients navigate through the large quantity of infertility-related resources by recommending trustworthy and suitable websites, the study authors suggested.

Additional research is needed to learn why distressed patients do not find Web-based resources helpful and whether alternative ways of providing information is better suited for these patients.

The study, “Searching the Internet for Infertility Information: A Survey of Patient Needs and Preferences,” was published online in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.


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