Intended for healthcare professionals


From patients to end users

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 09 March 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:555

Quality of online patient networks needs more attention than quality of online health information

  1. Tom Ferguson (, senior research fellow
  1. Online Health, Pew Internet and American Life Project, 1100 Connecticut Avenue, Washington DC 20036-4116, USA

    Some doctors still tremble in their boots when patients bring in printouts from the internet. If they refuse to read them, their patients may take offence. But if they attempt to review and discuss them, they may precipitate long, inconclusive discussions. And since many internet aware patients bring in information which their doctors know nothing about,1 such discussions can sometimes be embarrassing. Consequently, some doctors have gone so far as to warn their patients, “Whatever you do, don't go on the internet.”

    Some studies seem to confirm the wisdom of such advice. A recent literature search turned up 100 studies that attempted to rate the accuracy and completeness of health information on the world wide web. Ratings ranged from about 15% to 85% (Eysenbach G. personal communication). Some doctors have understandably concluded that the healthcare information on the net is not to be trusted.

    Our recent surveys at the Pew Internet and American Life Project offer a strikingly different perspective. 2 3 Of adults from the United States who had gone online for health information, 92% said that the last time they went online they found what they were looking for; 81% said they learned something new; 88% said the …

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