Physicians say benefits of healthcare internet information for patients are significant
Survey of Doctors’ Experience of Patients Using the Internet
Henry W. W. Potts1, PhD; Jeremy C. Wyatt2, DM FRCP
Background: There have been many studies showing the variable quality of Internet health information and it has often been assumed that patients will blindly follow this and frequently come to harm. There have also been reports of problems for doctors and health services following patient Internet use, but their frequency has not been quantified. However, there have been no large, rigorous surveys of the perceptions of Internet-aware doctors about the actual benefits and harms to their patients of using the Internet.
Objective: To describe Internet-literate doctors’ experiences of their patients’ use of the Internet and resulting benefits and problems.
Methods: Online survey to a group of 800 Web-using doctors (members of a UK medical Internet service provider, Medix) in September and October 2001.
Results: Responses were received from 748 (94%) doctors, including 375 general practitioners (50%). Respondents estimated that 1%-2% of their patients used the Internet for health information in the past month with no regional variation. Over two thirds of the doctors considered Internet health information to be usually (20%) or sometimes (48%) reliable; this was higher in those recently qualified. Twice as many reported patients experiencing benefits (85%; 95% confidence interval, 80%-90%) than problems (44%; 95% confidence interval, 37%-50%) from the Internet. Patients gaining actual physical benefits from Internet use were reported by 40% of respondents, while 8% reported physical harm. Patients’ overall experiences with the Internet were judged excellent 1%, good 29%, neutral 62%, poor 9%, or bad <1%. Turning to the impact of patient Internet use on the doctors themselves, 13% reported no problems, 38% 1 problem, and 49% 2 or more problems. Conversely, 20% reported no benefits for themselves, 49% 1 benefit, and 21% 2 or more benefits.
Conclusions: These doctors reported patient benefits from Internet use much more often than harms, but there were more problems than benefits for the doctors themselves. Reported estimates of patient Internet usage rates were low. Overall, this survey suggests that patients are deriving considerable benefits from using the Internet and that some of the claimed risks seem to have been exaggerated.
(J Med Internet Res 2002;4(1):e5)