Background: The Internet is a rich source of medical information and the general opinion among doctors is that the number of patients attending clinics with information from a web search is increasing. The purpose of this study was to assess the demographics of those who access the Internet and their attitudes towards the quality and usefulness of information provided by the Internet. This study also looked at the various sources of health information and the satisfaction rates.
Design: Cross-sectional observational study. The study group consisted of a cohort of women attending the gynaecology outpatient clinic at a district general hospital in the United Kingdom. In total, 484 patients attending the gynaecology outpatient clinic completed a questionnaire which included 13 structured questions regarding access to and attitudes towards the Internet and other health sources of information.
Setting: Questionnaires were distributed to 564 women attending gynaecology outpatient clinics for 3 months from 1 June 2005.
Results: A total of 484 patients (85.6%) completed the questionnaire. Age range was 41-65 years and the median education level was completion of General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). In total, 360/484 (74%) had sought health information about their condition from a variety of sources before attending the outpatient clinic. In total, 399/484 (82.4%) respondents had access to the Internet. Of 399 with access, 107 (26.8%) of the patients used the Internet to find information about their condition before their appointment. General practitioners remain as the primary source of health information, mainly to improve the knowledge of the condition. A total of 78/107 (73.3%) who had used the Internet before their appointment would like to continue using the Internet as a health information resource.
Conclusion: A significant proportion of patients had access to the Internet to find health information. The widespread availability and increased usage of medical websites by patients raises important issues regarding the need for quality control and impacts on the doctor-patient relationship.