I am an evangelist for patient education and I think the internet is a great resource for patients, because it allows them to learn more about their problem and their treatment options . I encourage patients to make the most of the fact that there is a wealth of information available online.

While a lot of patients are quite gung ho about using the internet , and are proud and pleased with their ability to be able to extract the information which they want, there are also some who’ve had their fingers burnt. They say we get confused on the net and we don’t know what to trust . There’s a lot of contradictory information out there, as a result of which we are always second guessing ourselves and our doctors . In fact, lots of doctors warn patients to stay away from the internet, as a result of which the internet has a pretty mixed reputation as far as patients go.

Patients who use the internet fall into two groups which explains why they have such varying experiences. Some are sophisticated. They’ve done their background reading, and because they’ve done their homework from reliable sites, they have a basic foundation and understand the terminology and medical jargon. They have a big picture , and they can build on this by visiting bulletin boards, forums or other sites, so that, even if these are poor quality sites, or contain conflicting information, they’re able to make sense of it . They have learned to extract the good and ignore the bad.

Many patients, on the other hand, are not sophisticated enough to understand that not all sites are created the same. They pretty much take every site at its face value, which is why they get so easily swayed, depending on which particular site they visited that particular day. This is why it is so important that when patients use the internet to find information, they need to have a structured approach.

Smart doctors will help patients to make sense of what they unearth, and will guide their patients to reliable and trustworthy sites. The best doctors will accept that educating patients is their responsibility , and will take the time and trouble to create patient educational materials in local languages.