Intended for healthcare professionals


Evidence based patient information

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 13 February 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:461

Doctors should be encouraged to develop information resources on the internet

  1. P V Gardiner, Consultant rheumatologist (
  1. Altnagelvin Hospital, Londonderry BT47 6SB
  2. University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ
  3. Department of Clinical Oncology, Addenbrooke's NHS Trust, Cambridge CB2 2QQ
  4. Leukaemia Research Fund, London WC1N 3JJ

    EDITOR—Coulter's editorial on evidence based patient information presents a counsel of perfection for those who seek to provide information for their patients.1 Her call for a national public information strategy and for training for clinicians in how to use better materials sounds “maternalistic” and overprotective. She belittles the effort that health professionals have invested in providing such information, and the tenor of her editorial seems to be to discourage these attempts. She deplores the paternalism of “well intentioned” health professionals who provide the public with material of “infantile quality.”

    Many patients choose to consult non-scientific sources of information about their conditions, including family members and alternative practitioners. Advice from such sources is likely to be far more dangerous than minor inaccuracies in information literature for patients. What is needed is not another nanny state initiative but one that encourages enthusiastic health professionals to get together and use their experience to deliver information more efficiently to their patients.

    Coulter dismisses the benefits of the internet as a vehicle for patient information so cavalierly that I wonder if she has used it recently to obtain information about medical conditions. In my experience, the quality of information that patients have gleaned from the internet has, in general, been superior to that derived from newspaper articles. There is plenty of rubbish on the internet, but patients should be given some credit for being able to sort out the wheat from the chaff. People who use the internet are accustomed to accessing several sources of information on a particular subject and comparing the quality of information provided. As large …

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