Internet information and medical consultations: experiences from patients' and physicians' perspectives

Sommerhalder, Kathrin and Abraham, Andrea and Caiata Zufferey, Maria and Barth, Jürgen and Abel, Thomas (2009) Internet information and medical consultations: experiences from patients' and physicians' perspectives. Patient Education and Counseling, 77 (2). pp. 266-271. ISSN 0738-3991

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OBJECTIVE: Many patients use the Internet to obtain health-related information. It is assumed that health-related Internet information (HRII) will change the consultation practice of physicians. This article explores the strategies, benefits and difficulties from the patients' and physicians' perspective. METHODS: Semi-structured interviews were conducted independently with 32 patients and 20 physicians. Data collection, processing and analysis followed the core principles of Grounded Theory. RESULTS: Patients experienced difficulties in the interpretation of the personal relevance and the meaning of HRII. Therefore they relied on their physicians' interpretation and contextualisation of this information. Discussing patients' concerns and answering patients' questions were important elements of successful consultations with Internet-informed patients to achieve clarity, orientation and certainty. Discussing HRII with patients was appreciated by most of the physicians but misleading interpretations by patients and contrary views compared to physicians caused conflicts during consultations. CONCLUSION: HRII is a valuable source of knowledge for an increasing number of patients. Patients use the consultation to increase their understanding of health and illness. Determinants such as a patient-centred consultation and timely resources are decisive for a successful, empowering consultation with Internet-informed patients. PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS: If HRII is routinely integrated in the anamnestic interview as a new source of knowledge, the Internet can be used as a link between physicians' expertise and patient knowledge. The critical appraisal of HRII during the consultation is becoming a new field of work for physicians.

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