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Internet and health: more good than harm?

Internet and health: more good than harm?

The Internet provides access to numerous information and resources on illnesses, diseases, health products and services. It provides online access to diagnoses, therapies, drugs and various types of treatment. Through forums and social media, individuals may share experiences, worries, problems and solutions with people around the world. Pharmaceutical and medical device industries, patient organizations, health institutions, health research institutions and even governments use this tool to build relationships with the public, promote their products, services, ideas and values.

Initial concerns have given way to a more nuanced point of view

While there was concern for the quality of information disseminated on the Internet, it is now recognized that many sites are designed by credible and informed healthcare players; that evidence-based information, once restricted to academics, is now accessible to all; that the public is becoming more critical of information found on the Internet and continues to make use of multiple sources of information.

There was concern that the Internet would affect negatively the relationship between patients and doctors. Researchers are now able to provide more nuanced observations.

There was also concern about the dangers of online direct-to-consumer sales of drugs and other complex and risky health products. Again, without denying these dangers, researchers have developed a better understanding of the scope of health-related web sites and they have brought some nuances to the image of “reckless consumers totally deprived of critical judgement”.

Thus, now that the Internet is well rooted in our habits, what exactly do we know about it and what do we do with it? We invite you to listen to our interview with Sally Wyatt, professor of digital culture at the University of Maastricht, on the use of Internet in health, and Marc Lemire on patients’ responsibilities toward direct-to-consumer sales of drugs online. Among our collaborators in this dossier, we also count on Martin Lasalle, journalist for PasseportSanté.net. In a very enlightening lecture, he presents the other side of the story by explaining how journalists communicate health issues to the public. Christine Thoër, from the Media and Health Research Group, presents a nuanced perspective of the impact of Internet on the doctor-patient relationship. Finally, Christopher Herbert, Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University, discusses the potential of Internet in the field of mental health.

We hope you enjoy your visit! Your comments on an entry or the entire dossier are always welcomed!

If you wish to dig deeper the issues addressed in this dossier, we invite you to visit the website Internet and Health whose mission is to promote knowledge exchanges between researchers and practitioners interested in the development of Internet in health and in its potential for changing people’s lives.

Author :Myriam Hivon, Ph.D.


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