• Article

Using the internet to seek information about genetic and rare diseases A case study comparing data from 2006 and 2011

BACKGROUND: The Genetic and Rare Disease Information Center (GARD) is a major provider of Web-based information on genetic and rare diseases. Little is known about the type of Web-based information individuals seek about genetic and rare diseases or their reasons for seeking.

OBJECTIVE: The objective of this paper is to describe the types of Web-based information sought about genetic and rare diseases and the reasons for seeking it from GARD by examining inquiries from 2006 and 2011.

METHODS: There were 278 English-language email and Web-based inquiries posed to GARD by lay individuals (ie, patients, parents, and relatives), which were randomly selected from inquiries in 2006 (n=68) and 2011 (n=210) and examined using content analysis.

RESULTS: Most often in both years, individuals sought basic disease information (51/68, 75.0% and 132/210, 62.8%; P=.067) and information about treatment (17/51, 33.3% and 62/132, 47.0%; P=.095). Specifically, inquirers requested information about their disease prognosis (6/51, 11.8% and 23/132, 17.4%; P=.347) and made requests for specialists (8/68, 11.8% and 31/210, 14.8%; P=.536). In both 2006 and 2011, a substantial subset of inquirers requested information related to undiagnosed symptoms, representing 16.2% (11/68) and 11.9% (25/210; P=.362) of inquiries, respectively. Inquirers were significantly more likely to have seen a health care provider before contacting GARD (99/210, 47.1% vs 20/68, 29.4%; P=.010) and to ask about clinical research studies in 2011 than in 2006 (24/210, 11.4% vs 2/68, 2.9%; P=.037). In the 2011 data set, the majority of the inquirers were women (201/210, 95.7%). In our 2006 sample, men were the majority source of inquiries (54/68, 79.4%).

CONCLUSIONS: Findings from this study indicate that lay people contacting a genetic and rare disease information center most often seek information about disease prognosis, finding a specialist, and obtaining a diagnosis for symptoms. Unique characteristics of individuals searching the Internet for genetic and rare diseases information, includes a growing interest in participating in clinical research studies and a desire to supplement or better understand information discussed during a visit with a health care provider. These efforts represent advancements in patient self-advocacy.


Morgan, T., Schmidt, J., Haakonsen, C., Lewis, J., Della Rocca, M., Morrison, S., ... Kaphingst, K. A. (2014). Using the internet to seek information about genetic and rare diseases: A case study comparing data from 2006 and 2011. JMIR Research Protocols, 3(1), [e10]. DOI: 10.2196/resprot.2916

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