Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Helping patients access high quality health information

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 18 September 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:764
  1. Sasha Shepperd, lecturer (,
  2. Deborah Charnock, research officerb,
  3. Bob Gann, directorc
  1. 1 Department of Primary Health Care and General Practice, Division of Primary Care and Population Health Sciences, Imperial College of Science Technology and Medicine, London W2 1PG
  2. 2 Division of Public Health and Primary Health Care, University of Oxford, Institute of Health Sciences, Oxford OX3 7LF
  3. 3 Centre for Health Information Quality, Winchester SO22 5DH
  1. Correspondence to: Sasha Shepperd
  • Accepted 11 August 1999

The provision of consumer health information was pioneered in the United States: organisations such as Planetree (a not for profit, community based healthcare initiative) were among the first to provide information services.1 Over the years several organisations in the United Kingdom—including the College of Health, the Help for Health Trust, the Health Education Authority, the Health Education Board for Scotland, and self help groups—have provided information on a wide range of health topics directly to patients or consumers. Similar initiatives have been undertaken in Europe, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.2 More recently, developments in Britain such as local consumer health information services, the Patient Partnership Strategy,3 and initiatives at the King's Fund4 5 have improved awareness of and access to evidence based consumer health information. These developments have come at a time when the amount of health information is increasing, particularly through the internet—and amid increasing concern about the varying quality of health information accessed by patients. We outline some steps to help health professionals advise patients on where to find good quality health information in this rapidly changing field.

Summary points

Patients require access to good quality, evidence based information so they can take an active part in decisions about their health care

The amount of information available to patients is increasing, particularly through the internet

The quality of this information remains variable

Health professionals need to be able to direct patients to sources of good quality consumer health information, including health related websites

Sources of consumer health information

Some of the organisations in the United Kingdom that are funded to provide health information for patients and the public are listed in box 1.

The internet

The internet offers access to health information provided by many different organisations and agencies Several providers offer gateway services that operate a selective process, only including information …

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