Health resources on the web

What is the current situation/background?

  • The internet is an increasingly used resource for medical and health information.
  • Surveys have shown that 40–54 per cent of patients access medical information via the internet and that this information affects their choice of treatment.

What is the evidence?

  • According to a survey, patients are most interested in using the internet to communicate directly with their healthcare providers (Ann Rheum Dis 2006; 65: 121–3).
  • A study has shown that accessing information and/or support online can have a profound effect on men’s experiences of prostate cancer (Qual Health Res 2005; 15: 325–45).
    It can provide a method of taking some control over their disease and limiting inhibitions experienced in face-to-face encounters.
  • A comparison of websites provided by various diabetes organisations found there
    was poor quality or little information on prevention of type-2 diabetes in high-risk groups (Diabet Med 2006; 23: 1,233–8).
  • Nearly half of women diagnosed with breast cancer have turned to the internet for information on health (J Med Internet Res 2005; 5: e15).
  • Many GPs use the internet for educational purposes. One US study has found that internet-based continuing medical education is at least as effective as conventional interactive workshops. It demonstrated that patient care can be enhanced by doctors participating in web-based workshops (JAMA 2005; 294: 1,043–51).
  • Interestingly, one recent study showed that using the search engine Google may help doctors to formulate a differential diagnosis in difficult diagnostic cases. Google searches found the correct diagnosis in 58 per cent cases (BMJ 2006; 333: 1,143–5).
  • However, an editorial correctly points out that the Google searches reported in the study were not simple; the doctors used extensive knowledge and experience to choose the search terms effectively and also Google did not actually solve the diagnostic problems (BMJ 2006; 333: 1,131).

Implications for practice

  • Knowledge gained from the internet is often used by patients to challenge their doctor during subsequent consultations, which then affects the doctor-patient relationship.
  • Problems with the internet include an uneven quality of medical information available, difficulties in finding, understanding and using the information, and the potential for harm and risks of over-consumption.

Useful website — Health on the Net foundation. This is one of most respected not-for-profit portals to medical information on the internet.


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