OBJECTIVE: To investigate attitudes of Australian health professionals working in oncology to health-related information in the media and on the Internet and to patients who search for this information. DESIGN: Questionnaire-based survey. SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS: Questionnaires were mailed in January 2003 to all 333 health professionals belonging to the Victorian Cooperative Oncology Group. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: 27 items about attitudes to information in the media and the Internet, patient information-seeking and its effects on the doctor-patient relationship. RESULTS: 226 surveys (68%) were returned and assessable. Most respondents took notice of medical information reported on television/radio, in newspapers (80% each) and on the Internet (56%), mainly to be informed when patients ask questions (82%) and to check its accuracy (60%). Most were concerned about this accuracy (64% believed it accurate only sometimes, and 23% rarely), and 91% believed information from the Internet had the potential to cause harm to patients. Nevertheless, they generally supported patients' information-searching, believing it allowed them to be better informed (58%), and did not affect their ability to cope with their illness (49%), or their trust in, and relationship with, their doctor (69% and 67%, respectively). CONCLUSIONS: Oncology health professionals are aware of patients' use of the Internet and other media to obtain medical information. To ensure oncology patients find reliable and relevant information and to minimise the risk of harm, the health professionals treating them should provide guidance in finding information sources, and assistance in interpreting the information obtained.
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