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J Clin Oncol. 2003 Mar 1;21(5):942-7.

American oncologists' views of internet use by cancer patients: a mail survey of American Society of Clinical Oncology members.

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Department of Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN, USA.



Americans are turning more and more frequently to the Internet to obtain health information. The specific effects on patients, doctors, and the clinical encounter are not well known.


A brief mail survey was sent to a systematic sample of 5% of medical oncologists and hematologist/oncologists listed in the membership directory of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.


Response rate to this mail survey was 46.2%. Oncologists' median estimate of the proportion of their patients using the Internet to obtain cancer information was 30%. Subjects responded that, on average, 10 minutes were added to each patient encounter in which Internet information was discussed. Responding oncologists reported that use of the Internet had the ability to simultaneously make patients more hopeful, confused, anxious, and knowledgeable. Forty-four percent of responding oncologists reported that they sometimes or rarely had difficulty discussing Internet information, and only 9% of subjects reported that they sometimes or always felt threatened when patients brought Internet information to discuss. In narrative responses, oncologists reported both positive and negative effects of Internet use by patients.


In this brief mail survey to a systematic sample of American oncologists in academic and community practice, respondents reported that a significant proportion of their patients use the Internet to obtain cancer information. Oncologists viewed Internet information as having both positive and negative effects on the clinical encounter. Further research is needed on the effects of patients' use of the Internet to obtain cancer information involving both patients and oncologists.

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