A new Griffith University study has revealed more than 50 per cent of GPs actively recommend health websites to their patients.

In the first Australian study of its kind, Education Associate Lecturer Dr Wayne Usher surveyed 108 Gold Coast general practitioners as part of his PhD research.

“The internet is changing and challenging the traditional doctor/patient relationship,” Dr Usher said.

“Increasingly, rather than provide them with information, the doctor assists patients with health decisions by recommending particular health information websites.

“Consumers want education and prevention information to help them take care of themselves and participate in health discussions with their doctor in a more informed way.”

The study found male GPs aged between 41 and 50 and practising for less than 10 years were more inclined to recommend a health website to a patient.

“Interestingly, while female GPs were less inclined to recommend websites, female patients were more likely to bring online health information to their doctor for discussion.”

Age was a factor as well, with the majority of GPs most often recommending websites to patients 26-45 years.

Helping to educate the patient and enhancing the doctor-patient relationship were the key reasons GPs recommended websites. Health issues included specific diseases, prevention of disease, diet and food intake and alternative medicine.

Main reasons for GPs not recommending websites included limited time to view websites, preference for personal discussion and reliability and biased information.

Dr Usher said it was essential that GPs developed critical website appraisal skills before recommending sites to patients.

“Many health professionals would be willing to undertake certified web-based continuing medical education courses,” he said.

“The inclusion of programs in medical schools is a possible strategy for preparing future GPs for internet prescribing.

“These are important initiatives towards creating a more reliable and safer e-health environment for all.”