Home and Community Care Digest
Methods: Patients from four primary care internal medicine practices completed self-administered surveys. The survey questions measured demographic, general health status, and behavioural factors. Patient's frequency and use of the Internet to find health information was measured using standard survey items.
Findings: A total of 330 out of 494 patients approached completed the survey. The average age of the respondents was 46 years; the majority was women (77.5%) and more than half were college graduates. The majority were white (92.3%), had health insurance (92%), had a primary care physician (94%), and reported having at least one chronic medical condition (77.5%).
Of the 330 respondents, more than half (51%) indicated that they had used the Internet to find health information. Of the patients who reported using the Internet to find health information, 62% believed that their physician should recommend specific web sites to help them find health information, although only 28% told their physician about the health information they found online. Very few patients reported having been asked by their physician about their Internet use (4.7%), and only 3% had been recommended by their physician to use the Internet as a source of medical information.
Conclusions: Even though patients use the Internet to search for health information, few communicate what they find with their physicians. This lack of communication may affect how patients make decisions regarding their care. A majority of patients expect their physician to recommend specific web sites where they can learn more about their health. This suggests that patients want guidance from a health care provider to identify and find reliable and quality health information on the Internet.
One challenge is that some physicians may be hesitant to recommend web sites because of concerns regarding the quality and reliability of the available health information and may not have the time to find and review health web sites. This challenge could be overcome if hospitals, public health bodies, governments, or other health organizations maintained and distributed a list of web sites that was regularly reviewed for the quality and reliability of available health information. Physicians and nurses could then refer to this list and recommend sites to their patients.
Reference: Diaz JA, Sciamann CN, Evangelou E, Stamp MJ, Ferguson T. "Brief Report: What types of Internet guidance do patients want from their physicians?" Journal of General Internal Medicine, 2005; 20: 683-685.
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