Mums Go Online: Is the Internet Changing the Demand for Healthcare?
We study the effect of internet diffusion on childbirth procedures performed in England between 2000 and 2011. We exploit an identification strategy based on geographical discontinuities in internet access generated by technological factors. We show that broadband internet access increased Cesarean-sections: mothers living in areas with better internet access are 2.5 percent more likely to have a C-section than mothers living in areas with worse internet access. The effect is driven by first-time others who are 6 percent more likely to obtain an elective C-section. The increased C-section rate is not accompanied by changes in health care outcomes of mothers and newborns. Health care costs increased with no corresponding medical benefits for patients. Heterogeneity analysis shows that mothers with low income and low education are those more affected: thanks to the internet, they progressively close the C-section gap with mothers with higher income and education. We show evidence documenting the growing importance of the internet as a source of health related information, and we argue that patient’s access to online information is changing the relationship between health care providers and patients.