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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 May, 2004, 00:24 GMT 01:24 UK
Health websites no threat to GPs
Web
There is much health information on the web
GPs need not be overly worried when their patients look to the internet for information, according to research.

University of York researchers spoke to parents in 358 households where one or more child had a chronic disease.

They found the children's parents said the internet was a useful source of additional information.

But parents said it did not undermine their faith in health professionals - or in their children's medicines - and seldom led to changes in treatment.

Our data suggest that patients think only 'other people' may be misled by suspect health information.
Dr Sarah Nettleton
Lead researcher Dr Sarah Nettleton said: "Patients don't use the internet in isolation; they add it to routine sources of information such as family, friends, books, magazines and other media.

"Our findings also suggest that people are sensible about what they find online and there is not necessarily a need for an extensive system of kite marks to guarantee the quality of e-health information.

"Having said this, we also found that people appreciated having websites recommended by health professionals."

The research was based on an analysis of websites providing information on childhood eczema, asthma and diabetes.

The York team surveyed 358 households with children with one or more of these conditions, and carried out follow-up interviews with 69 parents and 16 children.

The findings showed most people had a high degree of trust for health professionals, and that medical regimens were rarely altered as a result of information garnered from the net.

They also demonstrated that most people were cautious about the potential dangers of health information on the internet, although they were convinced they could differentiate between valuable information and 'rubbish'.

Dr Nettleton said: "Our data suggest that patients think only 'other people' may be misled by suspect health information."

Digital divide

The research also casts some doubt on current assumptions about the so-called 'digital divide' - the idea that uneven access to the internet could lead to other forms of social inequalities in the information age.

The research found many examples of households from poor backgrounds making highly productive use of e-health as well as other examples of richer households who made little or no use of such on-line resources.

The results of the survey indicated that nearly 80% of the sample had used the internet, and 61% of households with a child with diabetes had looked the condition up.

Dr Nettleton said: "Not surprisingly, internet access was greater among the better off.

"But it is a mistake to assume that such a 'digital divide' directly maps to other forms of social advantage or disadvantage."

Dr Paul Cundy, chairman of the Joint GPIT Committee, representing the British Medical Association and the Royal College of GPs, welcomed the research.

He told BBC News Online: "This ties in perfectly with the BMA's policy of encouraging GPs to encourage patients to get information from the web.

"Doctors should not be fearful of patients carrying internet printouts. As long as they are happy to take our view of the information, then it is nothing but helpful."




SEE ALSO:
Rating call for cancer websites
15 Apr 04  |  Health
'The internet saved my life'
06 Oct 03  |  Health
Warning over health websites
08 Mar 02  |  Health


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