Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Benefits and Problems with Online Health Information

For a discussion on online health care information, I used Mayoclinic.com (Mayo Clinic, 2011), which is a reputable online source for medical information for the lay person. I found 11 results that ranged from tonsillitis to cytomegalovirus infection. This site is user-friendly and designed for the general public, and the information was clear and concise. It contains pictures, discusses symptoms and causes, describes complications, tests, and treatments as well as lifestyle and home remedies. This website neither considers itself a replacement for face-to-face medical intervention nor does it offer much more than general information. More often than not, the site recommends seeking medical attention for ambiguous symptoms.

Perhaps the most remarkable benefit associated with researching health information online is that it connects individuals with expert knowledge from around the world (Hadley, 2005). It supports patient self-care and has the potential to improve overall health outcomes (Forkner-Dunn, 2003). Consumers can make informed decisions about their healthcare as long as they can distinguish between reputable sites and those that are otherwise (Hardey, 2005). A significant negative aspect of online information gathering is that users may retrieve and utilize poor quality information (Potts & Wyatt, 2005). Alternatively, some high quality information may be difficult for some individuals to understand and may lose its usefulness to complexity (Potts & Wyatt, 2005).

In many cases, though, consumers gain enough information to be able to negotiate their care (Hardey, 1999). For many people, playing an active role in their care has become an important issue. Some doctors may perceive this as an unwelcome change, but others welcome the idea of partnership in patient care (Hardey, 1999). Kock-Weser, Bradshaw, Gualtieri, & Gallagher (2010) suggested online health information is changing the way consumers communicate with their doctors about their care, and as a consequence, it is changing the way doctors must treat their patients.

In a survey of doctors' experiences with patients' internet use, doctors said the benefits outweighed the problems and they believed their patients received support and advice, although a few had concerns about misinformation (Potts & Wyatt, 2005). Another doctor-reported issue is that doctors may have to spend more time with patients who are better informed (Potts & Wyatt, 2005). Some doctors perceive this positively, others do not (Potts & Wyatt, 2005). Since the American Medical Association approved the use of social media by doctors, information seekers will likely begin to see a greater online presence by these professionals (Warnock, 2011).

Some doctors thought when patients believed too strongly in alternative therapies found online, it could undermine the doctor/patient relationship (Potts & Wyatt, 2005). An interesting series of events has taken place as patients become knowledgeable consumers about the health care product. This added knowledge has demystified medical care, and some consumers have become skeptical about the profession in general (Hardey, 1999). Alternatively, many online information seekers find the same recommendations they receive from their health care provider, which supports their doctors' medical opinion (Hardey, 1999).

For serious illnesses such as cancer, online disease-specific forums can provide patients with valuable information about their disease. Both caregivers and patients are able to learn more about their disease and take a significant role in their health care decisions (Dolce, 2011). For example, the Association of Cancer Online Resources (ACOR) moderates online, disease-specific communities wherein people share information. Patients under the care of nationally recognized specialists, share pertinent information that other patients share with their oncologists, in effect, educating their doctors and enabling them to provide better care.

If people can receive valuable and accurate information online, it supports their ability to take a partnership role in their healthcare. Further, it may influence their decision to take action and seek medical intervention rather than waiting on ambiguous symptoms (Harris, Sillence, & Briggs, 2011). The antiquated model of health care in the United States is in need of foundational change, and the internet can serve as a reliable education and provider of information for consumer/patients (Forkner-Dunn, 2003).


Dolce, M. C. (2011). The Internet as a Source of Health Information: Experiences of Cancer Survivors and Caregivers With Healthcare Providers. Oncology Nursing Forum, 38(3), 353-359. doi: 10.1188/11.ONF.353-359

Forkner-Dunn, J. (2003). Internet-based Patient Self-care: The Next Generation of Health Care Delivery. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 5(2), E8. doi: 10.2196/jmir.5.2.e8

Hardey, M. (1999). Doctor in the house: the Internet as a source of lay health knowledge and the challenge to expertise. Sociology Of Health & Illness, 21(6), 820.

Harris, P., Sillence, E., & Briggs, P. (2011). Perceived threat and corroboration: key factors that improve a predictive model of trust in internet-based health information and advice. Journal Of Medical Internet Research, 13(3), e51. doi:10.2196/jmir.1821

Koch-Weser, S., Bradshaw, Y., Gualtieri, L., & Gallagher, S. (2010). The Internet as a health information source: findings from the 2007 Health Information National Trends Survey and implications for health communication. Journal Of Health Communication, 15279-293. doi:10.1080/10810730.2010.522700

Mayo Clinic. (2011). Swollen lymph nodes. Health Information. Retrieved January 19, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/search/search

Potts, H. W., & Wyatt, J. C. (2002). Survey of Doctors' Experience of Patients Using the Internet. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 4(1), E5. doi: 10.2196/jmir.4.1.e5

Warnock, G. (2011). Challenges of online health information for surgeons. Canadian Journal Of Surgery. Journal Canadien De Chirurgie, 54(4), 221-222. doi:10.1503/cjs.020011

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