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October 21, 1998

Digital Doctoring—Opportunities and Challenges in Electronic Patient-Physician Communication

Author Affiliations

From the Center for Clinical Computing, Boston, Mass, and the Department of Health Informatics, School of Allied Health Sciences, University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston. Dr Ferguson is a consultant for a number of on-line health information companies.

JAMA. 1998;280(15):1361-1362. doi:10.1001/jama.280.15.1361

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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