Changing sources of health information: "Trust me I'm a doctor", vs "Trust me, I'm the internet"

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


In medical schools a great deal of time is spent teaching students the importance of appropriate communication methods and information delivery: the amount of information to disclose to a patient about their prognosis, the appropriate timing for disclosure, and optimal techniques to allow the information to be explained, understood and used effectively. This is deemed to be especially important due to the vulnerability of the sick, the difficulty of communicating concepts of risk and uncertainty, and the responsibility that comes with the trust that the patient has in their doctor due to their specialised knowledge and training. With the emergence of the internet however, this power-balance, partnership and careful information-sharing has changed and patients can easily find out possible reasons for their ailments, their chances of a successful recovery, and the myriad of factors affecting their prognosis. What role is there for the medical profession, and the law, over the way this health information is available, communicated and consumed?
A study of 6000 American adults in 2005 revealed that when faced with a medical problem most trusted their health care provider more than any other source of information, but the main channel they actually used first to access information about a medical problem was the internet (~50% of respondents) (Hesse et al., 2005). A more recent survey (Koch-Weser et al., 2010) identified that those seeking out health information online as their first port of call were younger, more educated, and had a higher income than those who sought out information from their physician first. Powell et al (2011) identified three key themes to explain why patients said they sought out information online: coverage, convenience, anonymity. This survey was carried out in the UK to investigate the users of the NHS Direct online service and interestingly participants highlighted that one of the reasons why they used this source rather than other sources (private companies or informal forums) was because the NHS had an “inherent trustworthiness”.
The area then that would be interesting to explore in the context of the SCRIPT conference is how best to respond to this evolution in health information delivery, trust and patient-experience. Is there a role for third-party regulation, sanctions or internet regulatory technologies, as proposed for e-pharmacies (Bessell et al., 2002)? Whose responsibility is this in the healthcare setting, and how should integration with healthcare providers be managed? What role could branding or endorsed portals (a “Google Med” perhaps) play?
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2012
EventSCRIPT Conference, University of Edinburgh - Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 6 Jun 20128 Jun 2012


ConferenceSCRIPT Conference, University of Edinburgh
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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