Patients' use of health information from the Internet
: exploring the impact on primary care

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    An increasing number of patients actively seek health information from the internet. Patients value the internet for health; however evidence suggests that health professionals perceive it as a challenge to their role. This study aims to investigate patients' use of the internet in primary care and to investigate the association between socio-economic status and internet use.

    Patients (n=851) attending two general practices in South Wales were surveyed about use of the internet for health in Phase 1. In Phase 2 interviews were conducted with a sample of these patients (n=50) and practice staff (n=10) to explore their views about patients' use of the internet and its impact on primary care. In the final phase, an on-line discussion forum with relevant stakeholders (n=73) explored views about the current and future role of the internet for patient information.

    Patients accessed their doctor significantly more for information about health in comparison to any other source. The internet was also highly valued, with 52% of study participants having used it for health information. Generally, primary care patients used the internet to complement rather than replace - information received by their doctor.

    There were differences amongst patients according to age, gender and socio-economic status in internet access, variety of health information used, and reliance on health professionals. Most health internet users acknowledged that their decision making was more informed and autonomous. A more patient-centred approach to consultations is advocated in the form of partnership with health professionals. This has yet to be realised in primary care, partly due to reluctance by patients and partly due to the current constraints on primary care consultations.

    This study shows that the internet is clearly an agent of change, which is shifting the way patients interact with health professionals in primary care. Patients would prefer to use the internet in partnership with health professionals, yet this need is currently not met within a primary care environment. It is important that patients and health professionals receive adequate training in using the internet for health information to make best use of this resource in the future.
    Date of AwardJun 2006
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorRobert Williams (Supervisor), Jamal Ameen (Supervisor) & Rachel Iredale (Supervisor)

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