The Internet and healthcare

A new book hopes to shed a little light on the issue of the Internet and healthcare.

Good Health Online — A Wellness Guide for Every Canadian by Jim Carroll and Rick Broadhead, examines the dramatic impact the Internet is having on Canada’s healthcare system.

“Many Canadians, frustrated with a healthcare system that often leaves them in the dark about their own medical circumstances, are turning to the Internet for help,” says Jim Carroll. The authors say there’s been an explosion of healthcare information on the Internet in recent months, a claim backed by Sympatico, Canada’s leading Internet service provider, which says healthcare information is one of the most frequent reasons people visit the Internet.

This comes at a time when Canada’s healthcare industry is in the midst of a tremendous period of change, as it learns to cope with dwindling medical budgets and hospital closings. More demands are being placed on Canada’s healthcare system as Canadians live longer and baby boomers move beyond middle age. Good Health Online (Prentice Hall Canada, October 1997, $16.95) aims to help Canadians become responsible healthcare consumers in the digital age

In doctors’ offices across the country, medical professionals are facing a new challenge — patients often arrive at their doorsteps with stacks of printouts generated from medical sources on the Internet. “The Internet will force healthcare professionals to deal with a new generation of Internet-savvy patients thirsting for medical knowledge and wanting more control over decisions affecting their health,” say the authors. But Carroll and Broadhead caution that the Internet is a double-edged sword. Used correctly and proactively, it’s a marvelous resource that will help Canadians take care of themselves and adopt a healthier lifestyle. “Deciding to become more proactive and responsible for one’s own health in an era of dwindling health resources is one of the most important things that a Canadian can do,” say the authors.

But used improperly, the Internet can lead to dangerous self-diagnoses, errors in judgment, and reliance on out-of-date, inaccurate information from unlicensed, non-medical professionals. “Most Canadians don’t have the skills to discriminate between credible, peer-reviewed medical information and useless junk,” points out Carroll. “Not only will Canadians need to develop the skills to critically appraise the validity of online medical information, they will need to learn to deal with medical professionals who re uncomfortable with this new medium.” While American medical authorities have been quick to educate consumers about the pitfalls of seeking medical advice from the Internet, similar Canadian initiatives are seriously lacking.

Good Health Online addresses these important issues and more by showing Canadians how to:

  • conduct effective online research into health care matters
  • evaluate the credibility of online health information
  • avoid the pitfalls of fraudulent, inaccurate, or biased information
  • deal with Internet-illiterate medical professionals
  • assess the dramatic changes the Internet will have on the Canadian health care industry

Good Health Online was produced in association with the Sympatico service, home of the HealthyWay site, the largest single online health care resource in Canada.