Fears over health 'cures' on the web
PATIENTS who use the internet to find out information about chronic disease rather than listening to their doctor could be putting their health at risk, research suggested today.
Using interactive computer tools, such as online support groups and chatrooms, does help improve the knowledge of people with conditions such as asthma and diabetes and provides social support.
But researchers from University College London said there was no evidence that "cyber-medicine" helped people change their behaviour.
They said there was evidence using interactive services may actually leave patients in worse health.
The team, led by Dr Elizabeth Murray, reviewed 28 trials involving more than 4000 participants to measure the effectiveness of Interactive Health Communication Applications (IHCAs).
These communication applications were defined as computer-based information sources combined with other services, like online support groups, chatrooms or advice. The researchers found the IHCAs had a positive effect on people gaining information and feelings of support.
But they concluded the applications had no effect on making patients believe changing their behaviour for the better was possible or on resulting in behaviour change.
They also said they had a "strikingly negative effect" on health outcomes, leaving some in worse health.
Dr Murray said one reason for patients’ worse health was that when they learn of small but important statistical effects of their treatment they become less frightened.
This would leave them less motivated to change the way they behave than if a doctor bluntly told a diabetic to control their sugar level or face death, for example.
Dr Murray also said that "knowledge-seekers" might become "so steeped in information" from the internet that they make their own decisions, contradicting advice from doctors.
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