For healthcare professionals only

Clinical Review ABC of health informatics

Is a consultation needed?

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 15 September 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:625
  1. Frank Sullivan, NHS Tayside professor of research and development in general practice and primary care,
  2. Jeremy C Wyatt, professor of health informatics
  1. University of Dundee.


    People with health concerns no longer have to become patients by consulting a health professional. Electronic health (eHealth) tools provide access to many resources that may satisfy their requirements. This article describes ways that patients can investigate health issues before, or instead of, a consultation.

    Ms Amulya Patel is a 48 year old accountant whose mother has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. Ms Patel wonders about her own level of risk, and uses the internet to search for patient resources

    As a professional, Ms Patel (see box opposite) can access health resources on the internet at work and at home. She may subscribe to a mobile internet service provider through her telephone or palmtop computer. Internet access is not restricted to affluent people in western societies. In the United Kingdom, the 2003 national statistics omnibus survey showed that 48% of households have home internet access, and the figures from the United States are even higher (60% of households have access). Internet cafes can be found worldwide, and library services often provide time online for free. The public can pay for “push technologies” from publishers that supply health alerts, but most people search for the information they need.

    Google search results for “breast cancer and family”

    Using a search engine

    Internet search engines are software tools that index and catalogue websites. People with little or no prior knowledge of a subject, but with some experience of searching the internet, often use search engines to begin an inquiry.

    If Ms Patel types “breast cancer and family” into a search …

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