Amount and types of health information available online
The use of the internet by healthcare professionals and consumers has transformed the healthcare industry in many ways (Keselman, Logan, Smith, Leroy & Zeng-Treitler, 2008; Hannah et al., 2011). The internet is a major source of health information where healthcare consumers obtain an unlimited amount of health information. It is estimated that about 100,000 websites provide information related to health amounting to millions of gigabytes (GB) in size (Keselman et al., 2008). Health-related websites offer information about simple infections like flu to complex conditions like cancer and heart conditions.
My previous health literacy experiences
I have witnessed many cases whereby patients are not able to interpret simple medical information provided to them by physicians or nurses. This illustrates the low level of health literacy on the part of consumers (Adams, 2010; Powell, Inglis, Ronnie & Large, 2011). Many patients I have encountered narrate episodes of self-prescription based on health information obtained from the internet. Many consumers are able to access online health information because they are literate and the internet is available round the clock (Adams, 2010). In fact, some patients access and accumulate health information from the internet with the intention of using it when best medications in the healthcare settings fail to make them recover from their health conditions and/or diseases.
Recently, I encountered a lady patient who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The lady, who had 2-year-old twins, made a decision to seek alternative medicine in Peru. She thought that since she did not have a history of breast cancer among family members, she would be cured immediately through alternative medicine. Upon coming back to the US from Peru, her breast cancer had worsened, and she was a candidate for breast reconstruction. This is one of the experiences whereby patients ignore medical advice from healthcare interdisciplinary teams and rely on the information extracted from the internet.
Nurses are involved in formulating strategies aimed to assist patients interpret and apply online health information. I would encourage patients to understand the category of health information they want from the internet. Different types of health websites contain many categories of health information (Keselman et al., 2008). It would also be important for a patient to identify the health condition they would be interested in searching on the internet.
The next strategy would be settling on a specific engine to use to search the internet. The examples include Yahoo, Google, Infoseek, Lycos, Excite, and Hotbot, among others. A patient would learn about the advantages of the various search engines so that he or she would make an informed decision (Keselman et al., 2008). Another strategy is assisting patients to conduct quality assessment on the information collected from the internet. If patients are not able to apply the various quality assessment tools available on the internet, they would be assisted to assess the quality of health information by healthcare professionals. In fact, consumers would be offered the right pieces of advice by healthcare providers because they have evidence-based health information regarding different diseases and health conditions. This would ensure that patients do not misinterpret health information extracted from the internet. I would also encourage patients to desist from overusing the internet to make crucial health decisions. Instead, they should consult clinicians and other healthcare professionals when they want to know about a particular disease or health condition.
Adams, S. A. (2010). Blog-based applications and health information: two case studies that illustrate important questions for Consumer Health Informatics (CHI) research. International journal of medical informatics, 79(6), 89-96.
Hannah, K. J., DuLong, D., Newbold, S. K., Sensmeier, J. E., Skiba, D. J., Troseth, M. R.,… & Douglas, J. V. (Eds.). (2011). Nursing informatics: Where technology and caring meet. New York, NY: Springer.
Keselman, A., Logan, R., Smith, C. A., Leroy, G., & Zeng-Treitler, Q. (2008). Developing informatics tools and strategies for consumer-centered health communication. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 15(4), 473-483.
Powell, J., Inglis, N., Ronnie, J., & Large, S. (2011). The characteristics and motivations of online health information seekers: cross-sectional survey and qualitative interview study. Journal of medical Internet research, 13(1), 20.