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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Information from the Internet and the doctor-patient relationship: the patient perspective – a qualitative study

Fiona A Stevenson1*, Cicely Kerr2, Elizabeth Murray2 and Irwin Nazareth1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Primary Care and Population Sciences, University College London, Hampstead Campus, Rowland Hill Street, London NW3 2PF, UK

2 Department of Primary Care and Population Sciences, University College London, Archway Campus, Level 2 Holburn Union Building, Highgate Hill, London N19 5LW, UK

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BMC Family Practice 2007, 8:47  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-8-47

Published: 16 August 2007



Both doctors and patients may perceive the Internet as a potential challenge to existing therapeutic relationships. Here we examine patients' views of the effect of the Internet on their relationship with doctors.


We ran 8 disease specific focus groups of between 2 and 8 respondents comprising adult patients with diabetes mellitus, ischaemic heart disease or hepatitis C.


Data are presented on (i) the perceived benefits and (ii) limitations of the Internet in the context of the doctor-patient relationship, (iii) views on sharing information with doctors, and (iv) the potential of the Internet for the future. Information from the Internet was particularly valued in relation to experiential knowledge.


Despite evidence of increasing patient activism in seeking information and the potential to challenge the position of the doctor, the accounts here do not in any way suggest a desire to disrupt the existing balance of power, or roles, in the consultation. Patients appear to see the Internet as an additional resource to support existing and valued relationships with their doctors. Doctors therefore need not feel challenged or threatened when patients bring health information from the Internet to a consultation, rather they should see it as an attempt on the part of the patient to work with the doctor and respond positively.