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MBA: Is cyber medicine turning us into a nation of expert patients?

July 10, 2008

MBA: Is cyber medicine turning us into a nation of expert patients?

Researchers from Manchester Business School and The University of Glasgow are undertaking an in-depth study into the impact of cybermedicine, such as virtual health communities and self-help sites, on face-to-face healthcare. They are looking for volunteers to share their experiences and take part in an online survey.

Funded by the NHS National Institute of Health Research Service Delivery and Organisation Programme, the research responds to the rise of the ‘expert patient’ who uses cybermedicine to self-diagnose, and the decline in the deference traditionally linked to professional judgement.

Dr Debbie Keeling, research associate at Manchester Business School explains:

“The project examines how a patient’s use of the internet affects their interaction with healthcare professionals, how they select the most appropriate treatment and most importantly, how it impacts upon their health. The study aims to provide a detailed analysis of cybermedicine, which will be used to help ensure patients receive the best possible choice of treatments and services from health professionals in the future.”

The key aims of the project are:

to quantify the extent and patterns of patients’ use of the internet as a health information resource and identify the factors that lead to variations in behaviour arising from accessing information
to identify the search strategies employed by patients in accessing health information on the internet and the evaluative approaches used in assessing the quality of available information
to analyse the membership, content and dynamics of virtual health communities and identify how participation in such communities is integrated into patients’ engagement with healthcare services
to document and conceptualise the evolving nature of patient-professional interaction arising from patient access to healthcare information and the subsequent format of the healthcare encounter
to assess the effect of changing patient access to information and the renegotiation of the healthcare encounter on patterns of patient decision making, health behaviour and, where feasible, measurable health outcomes
The research will focus on patients affected by cancer (breast and prostate), diabetes and depression. It aims to help determine future NHS policy and strategic planning, and improve organisation and service delivery, training and development.

Professor Angus Laing, The University of Glasgow, said:

“The internet is changing the way we live our lives and the consequences for healthcare is profound  – changing the expectations of patients and confronting professionals with new challenges. The image in the popular media is of hard-pressed doctors besieged by patients waving internet-printout. Yet such simplification disguises a much more complex pattern of change, where increasing diversity of behaviour is the key change.”

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