The Internet is an increasingly popular medical information resource
for consumers. A 1997 survey indicated that 43% of the estimated 40.6 million
US adults aged 18 years and older who had accessed the Internet within the
previous 12 months used it to obtain health or medical information.1 At least 10000 health and medical sites are on the
World Wide Web,2 and are maintained by entities
ranging from academic medical centers and professional organizations to individuals,
and vary widely in quality.3 Thousands of other
online self-help and support groups, electronic bulletin boards, and mailing
lists also are available, covering topics ranging from acne to yeast infections.4,5 Fridsma et al6
have suggested that many patients who go online are increasingly interested
in exchanging e-mail with their physicians. In a 1996 survey, Brown7 found that patients ranked "information from my own
doctor's office" as the type of online health information they desired most.
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