Intended for healthcare professionals


The first generation of e-patients

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 13 May 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:1148
  1. Tom Ferguson, senior research fellow (,
  2. Gilles Frydman, president (
  1. Pew Internet and American Life Project, 3805 Stevenson Avenue, Austin, TX 78703, USA
  2. Association of Online Cancer Resources, 173 Duane Street, New York, NY 10013, USA

    These new medical colleagues could provide sustainable healthcare solutions

    For many citizens of most developed countries, the internet has become a powerful and familiar healthcare tool.13 About half of adults in the United States have looked for health information on the net, making this the third most popular online activity.2 E-patients (we include both those who seek online guidance for their own ailments and the friends and family members who go online on their behalf) report two effects of their online health research—“better health information and services, and different (but not always better) relationships with their doctors.”2 Based on our own observations, the expert opinions of colleagues, a variety of e-patient and provider surveys, and a few more rigorous trials, we offer five tentative conclusions regarding the emerging world of the e-patient.

    Firstly, many clinicians have underestimated the benefits and overestimated the risks of online health resources for patients. We agree with Eysenbach that many medical researchers have become so “distracted by focusing on the negative aspects of the internet” that they have overlooked the benefits it provides.1 …

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