The Internet provides more answers than a 30-minute consultation.
Ferguson et al describe a new generation of e-patients1. Whilst
there is concern as to whether this is a good or bad thing for patients,
it is likely to happen despite doctors and not in spite of them! Health
professionals need to be alert to the fact that patients utilize the
Internet and should facilitate those that do not, as each highlight
specific issues about this widely available resource.
In February 2002, we conducted a survey of Internet use for
healthcare purposes in our outpatient HIV positive cohort. Over a three-
week period an anonymous self-completion questionnaire was offered to
patients attending the HIV outpatient clinic .67% (183/273) of patients
responded. 42% used the Internet to obtain HIV/AIDS information. Use was
not associated with age, gender or employment status. Reported benefits of
the Internet showed that information available was more detailed and
comprehensive. Furthermore the majority of patients felt they needed more
time to gain this information than the clinic provided and 28% preferred
to seek certain information anonymously. However, the majority of
respondents (78%) felt that the information obtained was more difficult to
understand. Use of Internet was not just confined to medical treatments
but many patients wanted to gain more information on complementary
therapies (48%), support groups (38%) and social services (30%).
29% patients did not own a computer and 21% did not know how to access
information on line
With ever more demands being placed on doctors time and increasing
patient expectations, the Internet should be welcomed as an additional
tool in the management of patients with chronic diseases. We feel that
the above results highlight the need for doctors to recognize that many
patients already benefit from using the Internet. Furthermore, they use it
to obtain a wide variety of medical and non-medical information that is
helpful to them which is best provided by means other than the doctor. The
internet allows patients more time to digest information, and get
answers to questions not addressed at their medical consultation due to
lack of time or embarrassment.
Clinic based computer terminals and free training sessions, which
introduce novice computer users to the Internet, can help in overcoming
the disparities in Internet use and assist all concerned with evaluating
the quality of information available and reaping the benefits of this
1. Tom Ferguson and Gilles Frydman. The first generation of e- patients.
BMJ 2004; 328: 1148-1149
Competing interests: No competing interests