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Doctor-patient relationships in the information age

Applicant Schulz Peter
Number 109972
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Istituto Media e Giornalismo Facoltà di Scienze della comunicazione Università della Svizzera italiana
Institution of higher education Università della Svizzera italiana - USI
Main discipline Communication sciences
Start/End 01.10.2005 - 30.09.2008
Approved amount 297'678.00
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Keywords (8)

doctor-patient communication; health literacy; health education; Doctor-patient relationship; Information seeking behaviour; Internet; qualitative study; consultation

Lay Summary (English)

Lay summary
In the course of the past years, there has been an explosion of health-related information on the Internet. Some implications of this phenomenon have already been scientifically analysed; in particular, a few studies have described how consumers actually seek health information on the Internet and the reasons of this behavior. However, other implications of the explosion of health-related information on the Internet continue to pose important questions, one of them being a question of major relevance concerning the impact of the access to health information on the relationship between the physician and the patient. The present research intends to bridge this gap by studies of a panel of patients and their respective doctors. In particular, this project seeks to examine firstly, why do patients search for health-related information outside medical consultation, particularly on the Internet; secondly, how do they assess and make sense of the information retrieved from the Internet and how do they process it related to information from other sources; thirdly, how does access to health information affect the doctor-patient relationship, and how does this relationship shape the consequent patient's behaviour. As this patient-centred approach requires the understanding of the individual's point of view, a qualitative methodology has been planned. Data have been collected through in-depth interviews with a sample of patients who have searched for health information on the Internet and with their physicians. Under patients' approval, the interviews have been recorded and transcribed in order to enhance data management and content treatment. Through an inductive analysis and following the basic principles of a modified grounded theory methodology, the categories of every interview have been pointed out. The identification of these categories have been followed by the definition of some more abstract topics in order to reach a typology of the various aspects of the phenomenon. The research has simultaneously taken place in Canton Ticino and in Canton Bern. This has provided the opportunity for a comparative analysis in different social and cultural environments.Results suggest that patients search health information on the Internet in order to achieve a better involvement in the medical consultation. However, the Internet alone does not contribute to patient's empowerment. While searching the Internet for health-related information, indeed, patients experience difficulties such as information overload, and contradictory and complex information. These difficulties hinder them evaluating the personal relevance of the information and could create anxiety and confusion. The consultation plays thus an important role in making the new information from the Internet personally meaningful for patients. Results also discuss the necessary conditions to provide a constructive consultation between physicians and Internet informed patients.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

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