The Internet: An Underutilized Tool in Patient Education


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Abstract

Internet technology is helping to reshape patient education. An illustration of this is provided by data from a two-stage pilot study involving 100 senior citizens who received instruction on how to conduct health information searches on the internet. The goals were to enable the seniors to assume an active role in their health care and to share their information with family and friends. In a Train-the-Trainer approach, 20 trainers received instruction on searching for health information on the Internet, and subsequently trained 100 senior citizen trainees. The study was conducted from October 1997 to June 1998. The average age of the senior trainees was 69. Most had a college education. The study results reveal a positive impact of the training on senior trainee confidence in using the computer and the Internet, conducting health information searches online, and sharing health care information with their physicians, families, and friends. Some gender and educational differences were noted. In a 90-day posttraining follow-up, 66% of the trainees continued to use the Internet, with 47% of them using it to search for health information. Two thirds of those who searched for health information on the Internet talked about it with their physicians, with more than half reporting they were more satisfied with their treatment as a result of their searches and subsequent discussion with their physicians. These findings are relevant to patient education in the nursing curricula of nursing students and nurse practitioners. Some suggestions are given to improve the effectiveness of the training program.

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