Thursday, January 17, 2008

Internet in Healthcare - postive & negative studies

Tow stories arrived, within five minutes of each other, in my email inbox this morning, both relating to aspects of the Intenet in healthcare. One was positive and one negative.

One from The British Journal of Healthcare Computing & Information Management entitled Internet health searches could lead to dangerous results. This covers a report from the US Center for Medicine in the Public Interest (CMPI) which suggests that Google searches for health information may be leading to dangerous medical decisions by the public. They carried out Google searches for cholesterol treatment and a type-2 diabetes. They found the majority of which appeared at the top of the hit list were websites paid for and sponsored by either class action law firms or legal marketing sites searching for plaintiff referrals. Other sites were sponsored by groups or individuals selling 'alternatives'.

The full report Insta-Americans: The Empowered (and Imperiled) Health Care Consumer in the Age of Internet Medicine by Robert Goldberg, Peter Pitts and Caroline Patton concludes that "Online information can add tremendous value for patients when used as a research tool for discussions with a doctor, but users should be aware of the sources of the information they find online and possible ulterior motives of site owners."

Its not a new or surprising finding but one that has implications for everyone.

The second story painted a different picture of the potential of Internet technologies to provide remote help for those with unmet health needs.

Wireless Healthcare story Online Communities May Provide Support For Suicidal Teenagers covers work by
Elaine Greidanus a University of Alberta researcher. Her small study of an online help site, for suicidal adolescents. She found the participants emphasised the importance of expressing their thoughts and feelings to a community who understood, and that they got this from the online community created and received social support they would not otherwise have. She believes this proves the online community to be a meaningful peer-based support system.

A little further information is available from the University of Alberta news site, but I've not yet seen this in any peer reviewed journal, however I feel it does balance the negative story above by showing that Internet technologies can provide positive support to healthcare practices.


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