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Before doctor’s visit, many surf Internet for info

Last Updated: 2003-02-13 12:55:50 -0400 (Reuters Health)

BERLIN (Reuters Health) – One in four Internet users search online for medical information before or after a visit to the doctor, according to a new survey conducted in Germany.

This growing tendency is seen as a two-edged sword by doctors, who feel that an involved patient is a better patient, but worry about the quality of information people are getting, an expert said.

The poll showed that 7% of Internet users go online to search for medical information before a visit to the doctor, while 8% check things out on the web after an appointment and 10% look on the Internet before and afterwards.

A further 53% of the more than 1,700 Internet users questioned by polling company TNS Emnid said they could imagine themselves using the Internet as a source of information in conjunction with a visit to the doctor.

Roland Ilzhoefer, spokesman for the KVB, the association covering most general practitioners and non-hospital specialists, told Reuters Health there were two sides to such use of independent information sources.

“On the one side it is good when a patient is interested in their injury or illness, interested enough to get information for themselves from whatever source, be that newspapers, magazines or books and of course the Internet.”

Those patients are more likely to follow-through with prescribed treatments, he said.

“But of course, on the other hand, the question remains of how dependable the information that the patient has found, actually is. And even if it is useful information, it cannot be tailored to the individual patient–so a diagnosis which has been found online can be wrong for that particular person.”

“This can create problems for the doctor if the patient turns up with a diagnosis and a decision on what therapy they need and just demands a prescription.”

It can be hard for the doctor to explain why his diagnosis and prescription for treatment might be different than the online information, Ilzhoefer said.

“In an extreme case where the patient may be totally convinced, they might even leave that doctor in search for one who will prescribe what they have read about,” he said. “They may end up not going to see a doctor at all, if they feel they have got the information they need from their own sources.”

Ilzhoefer also warned that many Web sites are sponsored, or created in conjunction with companies keen to promote their own treatment or products. But he stressed that the information available on the Internet could be just as useful as information found in books, magazines or on television.

Copyright © 2003 Reuters Limited.


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