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'Peer review' suggested for health information websites

British Journal of Cancer study says it's vital patients have access to good quality and accurate information

Online health information could be subjected to a system of peer review, similar to that used by medical journals to evaluate article submissions.

The suggestion comes from researchers running a UK study of online chemotherapy information. They said it is “vital that patients have access to good quality and accurate information”.

The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, suggests that one way of ensuring this would to involve health professionals in “the regulation and peer review of websites”.

The researchers also said that patients need more guidance when it comes to online chemotherapy information and that doctors and nurses may be underestimating the value patients place on websites.

Elaine Davies, study author based at Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust, said: “Health professionals need to determine what information patients are most interested in and how they can offer guidance to credible websites.

“It's undeniable that reliable information can improve patients' understanding of chemotherapy and can be a good way of tailoring consultations to address the individual needs of a patient.”

The study was carried out at Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust and questioned 204 patients who were having chemotherapy and 48 health professionals.

Just over half of the patient respondents accessed the internet regularly. Key search topics included chemotherapy modes of action, symptom management and treatment success, and most considered internet chemotherapy information (ICI) useful.

Davies and fellow study author Dr Kheng-Wei Yeoh, who's based at the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals Trust, said these patients were “younger, with higher incomes and qualifications”.

More than half wanted to discuss ICI with health professionals but most did not get the opportunity. Although the majority of health professionals respondents supported the need for patients to retrieve ICI, most questioned the accuracy of ICI and did not routinely recommend its use.

Dr Yeoh said: “Discussion of internet chemotherapy information could in fact be an opportunity to strengthen this relationship by clearing up any concerns, relieving anxiety and helping to make difficult decisions."

23rd February 2012

From: Marketing

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