NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

How The Internet Is Changing Medicine

July 14, 1999

Each year millions more Americans consult medical sites on the Internet to learn more about their maladies and preventive measures before calling a doctor. Medical experts say the process is changing how medicine is being practiced in a manner more profound than any change since the advent of managed care.

  • In 1996, 7.8 million U.S. adults retrieved health information from the Internet -- a figure which grew to more than 22 million for 1998, and is projected at 33.5 million in 2000.
  • According to the research firm Cyber Dialogue, the most common medical search is for information about a specific disease.
  • The most common ailments researched, according to a recent Harris Poll, are depression, allergies or sinus problems, cancer, bipolar disorder, arthritis and high blood pressure.
  • Next, people seek diet and nutrition advice, followed by information about pharmaceutical drugs and women's health.

Experts say the Internet consumer health market will become a $1.7 billion business by 2003.

There are a number of important implications. One is that information available on some sites is just plain wrong -- which frightens doctors and should alert their patients to operate with extreme caution.

Another is that the wealth of Internet medical information is altering the doctor-patient relationship. "Every doctor needs to be prepared for the day when somebody comes in with more information that we don't know about," warns J. Sybil Biermann, a surgeon at the University of Michigan. "We need to be prepared and accept that and learn from our patients. It's a new idea of how things should go in the typical medical model," she adds.

Source: Robert Davis and Leslie Miller, "Net Empowering Patients," USA Today, July 14, 1999.


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