Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


Are virtual communities good for our health?

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 20 April 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:925

Rapid Response:

Virtual Communities - Confusing?

I appreciate the authors view about the immense benefit of virtual
health communities. They are approachable and easily accessible sources
of information where readers can share each others experiences of health,
in a method not previously possible. The vast numbers of experiences may
surely be of benefit to many readers medically and more so from the
psychosocial aspects associated to any medical condition.

However, I was wondering about the need for caution with the rapid
growth of the number of groups (according to the article, there are more
than 7000 communities on yahoo alone). In a medical world revolving
around “Evidence Based Medicine”; Are the growth of vast numbers of these
groups beneficial to readers or to the contrary become confusing?. This
is especially more relevant when expressing medical information. When
reader A promotes the benefits of drug X which a clinician does not agree
will be of any benefit for reader B with the same condition, because of
lack of evidence. This could lead to a situation where both the reader
and to a lesser extent the clinician are confused about the best treatment
available. In a profession where every consultation is moving towards
“patient centered”, the pressures on a clinician will also grow despite
all the guidelines in place.

It might be worth considering the promotion of “clinician approved”
virtual health communities where all patient experiences’ are shared with
substantial background evidence so that both the patient and the clinician
will be clear about the best medical practice. This is surely necessary
in the changing medical profession today to ease the pressures on the
clinicians but how much of this may be practical in encroaching
individuals’ freedom is debatable.

Rahul Potluri,
Medical Student,
Birmingham University,

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

24 April 2006
Rahul Potluri
Medical Student,
Birmingham University, Birmingham, UK, B152TT