Book Book

The Patient's Internet Handbook

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 09 March 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:618
  1. Cathy Neale, postgraduate student in health studies
  1. Middlesex University

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    Robert Kiley, Elizabeth Graham

    Royal Society of Medicine Press, £9.95, pp 302

    ISBN 1 85315 498 9

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    Whether you're a patient or a health professional, The Patient's Internet Handbook can guide you through the internet's seven million websites to find quality health information at the touch of a button.

    This book is designed to help patients ask the right questions at their next consultation and it begins with the basics of getting started on the internet. With clearly defined chapters and detailed examples, you can find out about local support groups, professional information—including treatments—concerning a hundred common medical conditions, current evidence based research on a chosen topic, or compare hospital appointment waiting times.

    I have shared tips and experiences with others who, like me, have eczema, and I have accessed the Royal Marsden Hospital's information on treating different types of cancer. And I discovered that my son was one of a total of 16 550 attendees to accident and emergency at my local Whittington Hospital between July and September last year.

    I can now perform tricky advanced searches on the Medline database. However, I disagree with the book's statement that randomised controlled trials “produce more reliable conclusions” and would have liked more information on qualitative research sources.

    Most women's first prolonged contact with healthcare professionals happens when they have their first baby. The dedicated chapter on this, with a special mention for the excellent National Childbirth Trust's website, responds well to this information need. And did you know that several interactive tools can help you estimate your next ovulation date, create an online birth plan, find additional baby names, or tell you if you're going to have a boy or a girl (if your tummy looks like a watermelon, it must be a girl)?

    This last tool should not be taken seriously, warn the authors, who offer necessary tips on how to evaluate the quality of health information on the internet and how to avoid the many sites with misinformation, which promise scams such as “slimming soap to wash away your fat.” Some sites even give outright dangerous advice, for example the promotion of hydrazine sulphate, an unproven cancer treatment, to people with cancer.

    The idea of this handy guide is not to turn people into hypochondriacs (or cyberchondriacs) or to replace the advice that patients can get from their general practitioners. Instead it is to help people learn to treat the internet as a useful tool in order to become better informed patients and perhaps better informed doctors and health professionals too.

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