Web Not Always Safe Health Source for Some

Doesn't help people with diabetes and other chronic diseases change behavior

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THURSDAY, Oct. 21, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Internet-based health information may be hazardous to people with chronic diseases such as diabetes or asthma, say University College London researchers.

They reviewed 28 studies on health information from the Web and found that using interactive computer tools does help people improve their medical knowledge and provides them with positive feelings of social support.

But the study found no evidence that Web health information helps people with chronic diseases make behavior changes that will benefit them. In fact, people who use computers to access information about their disease often end up in worse condition than if they had listened to their doctor.

"This whole finding confounds conventional wisdom," study author Dr. Elizabeth Murray, of the department of primary care and population sciences, said in a prepared statement.

She said patients who access a lot of Web-based health information may decide to make their own treatment choices, even if those decisions are contrary to a doctor's advice.

For example, a person with diabetes may be told by a doctor to lower blood sugar. But, based on his or her own interpretation of data from the Internet, the patient may decide the short-term tradeoffs of not controlling blood sugar are worth the long-term risks.

Murray added that increased knowledge about their disease and treatment may also make people less frightened and less motivated to be strict about their control of diabetes or other chronic diseases.

The study appears in the October issue of the Cochrane Collaboration.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has information about healthy Web surfing.

SOURCE: University College London, news release, Oct. 17, 2004

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