Consumer Healthcare Information items

Several bloggers have already posted today about the new study from the Pew Internet and American Life project, Online Health Search 2006, but Steve Rubel at Micro Persuasion includes an interview with Susannah Fox, Associate Director at Pew, who says of the study:

The biggest surprise for me was the decreasing percentage of health seekers (internet users who look for health information online) to check the source and date of the medical advice – health information they find. Expert organizations like the Medical Library Association, URAC, Consumer WebWatch, and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services have been trying to publicize the importance of checking these quality indicators, but it seems clear that most internet users are not getting the message.

Just another indication of the growing need for information literacy education generally and health information literacy education specifically.

Direct link to report (PDF)

Two other articles about searching online for consumer health information caught my eye today:

Rocky Mountain News

Internet can’t cure all ills: Millions go to online sites for health news, advice, but experts urge caution

I’m alarmed and annoyed that the article lists the most heavily used health information web sites BEFORE listing web sites that are recommended by the MLA. Worse, the Rocky Mountain Times descibes the most heavily visited sites as “the “Top five health Web sites,” which could mislead the reader into thinking that these are the best when, in reality, they’re just the most frequently visited. This strikes me as irresponsible behavior by the newspaper.

The Greensboro News-Record

Patients seek health info on Web, but it isn’t always fresh

This article has a different take on the Pew study. Instead of focusing on the way that health information seekers fail to consider the source, it focuses on the way they fail to check how up-to-date the information is. It does this in the headline, it seems, because of the one paraphrase in the story from a medical librarian:

That’s fine as long as information is reliable and up-to-date, said medical librarian Julie Myrick at Moses Cone Health System in Greensboro.

So it sort of looks like this reporter missed the major points of the Pew study.

The author also spoke with a primary care physician, Dr. Gail Terrell.

…if patients research issues carefully and discuss them in detail with their physicians, the patient’s care will almost certainly be better and might also be cheaper, Terrell said.

Dr. Terrell relates a story about a patient who came into Terrell’s office witha preliminary diagnosis based on internet research:

“…she came in (for her annual physical) and said, ‘I’ve been looking on the Internet and I think I’ve got Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome,’ ” Terrell said. “I’d never heard of it, and I’m board-certified and not a dummy. But I read her description, and she was right on the mark.”


The down side, she [Terrell] said, is that patients who have a lot of questions or suggestions stemming from online research can take longer to treat. That’s a problem in an era in which the health care industry is trying to keep costs down by becoming more efficient.

I appreciate that primary care physicians try to see a lot of patients in a short amount of time, but I find this a little exasperating. One’s primary care physician should welcome the patient’s questions and answer each of them patiently.

Just a little personal advice from someone who has met a lot of doctors: if your primary care physician doesn’t have time for your questions when you’re at an office visit, find another primary care physician.

4 thoughts on “Consumer Healthcare Information items

  1. Greetings. As the N&R reporter who wrote the article you link, I’d like to take issue with your claim, based on the headline, that I “missed the major points” of the study.

    First, reporters don’t write the headlines. Copy editors do. Second, if you read the entire article and accompanying text boxes, etc., you’ll see that there are a number of suggestions for ascertaining the most reliable online sources of medical information.

  2. Thanks for writing, Lex.

    I noticed that the article on the site has had a title change, from “Patients seek health info on Web, but it isn’t always fresh” to the shorter and much more sensible “Patients seek health info on Web.”

    Perhaps it would have been a better article if all the stuff with Dr. Terrell had been excised. Start with the first three existing paragraphs that introduce the Pew study and define the problem, then fill out the rest of the article with the tips from Julie Myrick, medical librarian at Moses Cone Health System. Ms. Myrick’s advice directly address the concerns of the Pew study.

    The Pew study, after all, is about healthcare consumers and the ways that they seek information online. Dr. Terrell’s commentary was at best only tangentially related to the real story.

    The real story is about the critical need for healthcare information literacy, not about whether a doctor approves of his/her patients independently researching their own health concerns.

    So perhaps the article didn’t “miss the major points” as much as it de-emphasized them by making them a sidebar. The article made the real story a sidebar, and made what should have been a sidebar the story.

    And this may not have been done by you, but by your copy editor. Either way, I stand by my opinion that it is a poor article.



  3. Pingback: PabloG » Blog Archive » links for 2006-11-07

  4. Well, don’t get me wrong — I don’t think it’s a prize winner or anything. But it had several bases to touch (among them real, local people being quoted and a real, and tight, deadline).

    And don’t attach artificial importance to what actually appears in the article compared with what appears in what you call the sidebar. I broke that info out into a box specifically to make it more eye-catching. If you just make it part of the article text, it blends into the background and often (usually?) doesn’t get read.