The Internet is complicating doctor-patient relationships


The Internet is complicating doctor-patient relationships Patients who ask their doctor about information they have read on the Internet, or websites that better inform them of their diagnosis, are no longer a rarity. A study undertaken by Spanish researchers reveals the advantages and disadvantages of online medical enquiries. Some 31% of doctors believe that the Internet complicates their relationship with patients and undermines their credibility.

Health information on the Internet is changing the relationship between doctors and patients. “Although the e-patient is a new phenomenon that is growing exponentially, very few studies analyse it from a doctor’s point of view,” explains José Joaquín Mira, the main author of the working paper published recently in the journal Atención Primaria (Primary Health Care in English) and a researcher at Miguel Hernández University.

As a result, the researchers analysed the opinion of 660 doctors who all work for the Spanish National Health System (330 in primary health care and 330 in hospitals) in the provinces of Alicante, Madrid, Zaragoza and Huesca. Results show that 96% of the doctors surveyed have been questioned by their patients about information they have read on the Internet. Furthermore, almost three out of every 10 professionals recommend websites to their patients.

The doctors who work in hospitals devote more time to the Internet, take more advantage of resident training resources and cooperate more with specific websites than their primary health care counterparts. But opinions coincide when the influence of the Internet on their relationship with patients is analysed. According to 31% of doctors, Internet complicates their relationship with patients and undermines their credibility.

As regards the advantages that the Internet provides patients – 42% of doctors said it helps patients to learn about their illness. However, only 20% of the doctors surveyed said that the Internet increased patient independence.

“All the specialists agree that they do not believe the Internet favours patient independence,” says Mira. Moreover, many believe it can undermine the credibility of doctors. As a result, doctors do not normally suggest websites to their patients for complementary information.

eHealth challenges

eHealth encompasses all healthcare based on information and communication technologies, such as electronic medical records, telemedicine (physical and psychological tests which do not require the physical presence of the patient), information dissemination and online healthcare.

“More than 40% of the Spanish population is estimated to browse the Internet in search of information about health,” Mira says. He adds that despite being one of the most active areas of innovation and with great prospects for the future, “it also poses new unanswered questions and very few studies have been carried out to date”.

ate of upload: 19th Dec 2010


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