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1.  Internet Use among Ugandan Adolescents: Implications for HIV Intervention 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(11):e433.
Background
The Internet is fast gaining recognition as a powerful, low-cost method to deliver health intervention and prevention programs to large numbers of young people across diverse geographic regions. The feasibility and accessibility of Internet-based health interventions in resource-limited settings, where cost-effective interventions are most needed, is unknown. To determine the utility of developing technology-based interventions in resource-limited settings, availability and patterns of usage of the Internet first need to be assessed.
Methods and Findings
The Uganda Media and You Survey was a cross-sectional survey of Internet use among adolescents (ages 12–18 years) in Mbarara, Uganda, a municipality mainly serving a rural population in sub-Saharan Africa. Participants were randomly selected among eligible students attending one of five participating secondary day and boarding schools in Mbarara, Uganda. Of a total of 538 students selected, 93% (500) participated.
Of the total respondents, 45% (223) reported ever having used the Internet, 78% (175) of whom reported going online in the previous week. As maternal education increased, so too did the odds of adolescent Internet use. Almost two in five respondents (38% [189]) reported already having used a computer or the Internet to search for health information. Over one-third (35% [173]) had used the computer or Internet to find information about HIV/AIDS, and 20% (102) had looked for sexual health information. Among Internet users, searching for HIV/AIDS information on a computer or online was significantly related to using the Internet weekly, emailing, visiting chat rooms, and playing online games. In contrast, going online at school was inversely related to looking for HIV/AIDS information via technology. If Internet access were free, 66% (330) reported that they would search for information about HIV/AIDS prevention online.
Conclusions
Both the desire to use, and the actual use of, the Internet to seek sexual health and HIV/AIDS information is high among secondary school students in Mbarara. The Internet may be a promising strategy to deliver low-cost HIV/AIDS risk reduction interventions in resource-limited settings with expanding Internet access.
A survey among 500 adolescent pupils in rural Uganda suggests widespread interest in online information about sexual health and HIV/AIDS. Over one-third of Internet users had already searched for relevant information online, and many of the others said they would like to educate themselves about HIV/AIDS online.
Editors' Summary
Background.
HIV/AIDS is a major health burden in sub-Saharan Africa, including Uganda. Despite a recent reduction of the number of HIV-infected individuals, HIV transmission remains a problem among Ugandan adolescents. Recent surveys suggest that about half of sexually active adolescents do not consistently use condoms, and that young people are less knowledgeable about HIV than they were 15 years ago.
Why Was This Study Done?
The Internet has a number of characteristics that make it an attractive tool in health education and HIV prevention, especially for adolescents—including interactivity, privacy, the overlap between education and play, and the ability to individualize information based on an initial assessment of background conditions, interest, and knowledge. It is also thought that despite these advantages, the Internet's potential in resource-poor settings with higher HIV infection rates and limited access to other health care resources has not been explored much. This study was done to gain some initial insights on the desired and actual use of the Internet to seek sexual health and HIV/AIDS information among adolescents in Uganda.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
They did a survey of 500 adolescent pupils randomly selected from five participating boarding schools in Mbarara, a small town in a rural part of Uganda. They asked three questions: To what extent are the adolescents exposed to computers and the Internet? Are they interested in accessing health information online? Who uses the Internet and how? Almost half of the participants said they had used the Internet at least once, and the majority said they had been online during the previous week. Most Internet users (82%) reported going online at school; 57% said they use Internet cafes, 17% access the Internet at home; and 11% at someone else's house. More than a third of all participants reported having used the Internet or computer to look up health information, and many had been looking for information on sexual health and HIV/AIDS. About two-thirds of the participants said that if Internet use were free, they would search for information on sexual health and HIV/AIDS prevention. The researchers analyzed the responses further to identify the most influential factors in whether one of the Internet users would go online to educate themselves about HIV/AIDS. They found that those participants who used the Internet more often and those who engaged in online activities like chat rooms, games, and e-mail, were more likely to search for HIV/AIDS information. On the other hand, those who went online only at school were less likely to do so.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Approximately the same proportion—roughly one-third—of adolescents in a rural setting in Uganda reported having used the Internet to look up health-related information as of young people in the United States. Together with the result that an additional third said that they would go online to educate themselves about HIV/AIDS if Internet use was free, this study suggests that initiatives in Africa to improve online access for adolescents as well as to develop content tailored for young people in specific settings would make a difference.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030433
Links page for adolescents and youth from HIV InSite at UCSF
Africa Initiative
HIV/AIDS education module from the US Public Broadcasting System
Lesson plan for “Using the Internet to Access Sexual Health Information” from the Information Institute of Syracuse
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030433
PMCID: PMC1630714  PMID: 17090211
2.  What Explains Usage of Mobile Physician-Rating Apps? Results From a Web-Based Questionnaire 
Background
Consumers are increasingly accessing health-related information via mobile devices. Recently, several apps to rate and locate physicians have been released in the United States and Germany. However, knowledge about what kinds of variables explain usage of mobile physician-rating apps is still lacking.
Objective
This study analyzes factors influencing the adoption of and willingness to pay for mobile physician-rating apps. A structural equation model was developed based on the Technology Acceptance Model and the literature on health-related information searches and usage of mobile apps. Relationships in the model were analyzed for moderating effects of physician-rating website (PRW) usage.
Methods
A total of 1006 randomly selected German patients who had visited a general practitioner at least once in the 3 months before the beginning of the survey were randomly selected and surveyed. A total of 958 usable questionnaires were analyzed by partial least squares path modeling and moderator analyses.
Results
The suggested model yielded a high model fit. We found that perceived ease of use (PEOU) of the Internet to gain health-related information, the sociodemographic variables age and gender, and the psychographic variables digital literacy, feelings about the Internet and other Web-based applications in general, patients’ value of health-related knowledgeability, as well as the information-seeking behavior variables regarding the amount of daily private Internet use for health-related information, frequency of using apps for health-related information in the past, and attitude toward PRWs significantly affected the adoption of mobile physician-rating apps. The sociodemographic variable age, but not gender, and the psychographic variables feelings about the Internet and other Web-based applications in general and patients’ value of health-related knowledgeability, but not digital literacy, were significant predictors of willingness to pay. Frequency of using apps for health-related information in the past and attitude toward PRWs, but not the amount of daily Internet use for health-related information, were significant predictors of willingness to pay. The perceived usefulness of the Internet to gain health-related information and the amount of daily Internet use in general did not have any significant effect on both of the endogenous variables. The moderation analysis with the group comparisons for users and nonusers of PRWs revealed that the attitude toward PRWs had significantly more impact on the adoption and willingness to pay for mobile physician-rating apps in the nonuser group.
Conclusions
Important variables that contribute to the adoption of a mobile physician-rating app and the willingness to pay for it were identified. The results of this study are important for researchers because they can provide important insights about the variables that influence the acceptance of apps that allow for ratings of physicians. They are also useful for creators of mobile physician-rating apps because they can help tailor mobile physician-rating apps to the consumers’ characteristics and needs.
doi:10.2196/jmir.3122
PMCID: PMC4071227  PMID: 24918859
physician-rating apps; physician-rating websites; sociodemographic variables; psychographic variables; digital literacy; TAM
3.  Health Information on the Web and Consumers’ Perspectives on Health Professionals’ Responses to Information Exchange 
Medicine 2.0  2014;3(2):e4.
Background
Health information technology, which is sometimes referred to as informaticization of medicine, is changing the extent to which patients become competent producers of their own health by enabling them access to health information anytime and anywhere.
Objective
This research provides preliminary information on users' perceptions of the extent to which use of the Internet for health information impacts medical encounters. We specifically explored the following questions: (1) To what extent perceptions of positive or negative changes in medical encounters are associated with sociodemographic background of online health information seekers, and how often the Internet information is discussed with providers? (2) To what extent is there an association between perceived changes in medical encounters and frequency of referring to the Internet during medical encounters? (3) To what extent is there an association between sociodemographic background of online health information users and frequency of discussing of the Internet information with providers?
Methods
The data for this study was derived from a national sampling of online health and medical information users who participated in the Study of Health and Medical Information in Cyberspace—Survey of User Perceptions (N=710). This study used a nationally representative online research panel of the US adults maintained by the Knowledge Networks. Analysis of variance (ANOVA), chi-square, and t tests were performed to examine the data.
Results
Although Internet sources allow people the opportunity to gather health or medical information, discussion of this information was not a very common activity. It is noteworthy that half of the sample never or rarely discussed health/medical information obtained from Internet sources with health professionals. Chi-square analyses revealed that discussion of online health information with providers were associated with education, income, and marital status. We also found that discussion of the Internet information mostly promotes better physician-patient interactions. Analyses with post-hoc tests identified that perceived changes in medical encounters were associated with age, education, and income. However, 9.1% (64/703) of our respondents strongly agreed that the interactions with their providers have been strained. T test analyses showed that marital status, race, and gender were not significant.
Conclusions
Embracing new technologies, and adapting to changing roles and relationships in delivery of medical care are critical to effective delivery of patient-centered care. Health professionals could also guide patients on how to evaluate information and where to access to reliable and accurate information.
doi:10.2196/med20.3213
PMCID: PMC4087097  PMID: 25075248
health communication; Internet; information; patient-physician relationship
4.  The Impact of eHealth on the Quality and Safety of Health Care: A Systematic Overview 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(1):e1000387.
Aziz Sheikh and colleagues report the findings of their systematic overview that assessed the impact of eHealth solutions on the quality and safety of health care.
Background
There is considerable international interest in exploiting the potential of digital solutions to enhance the quality and safety of health care. Implementations of transformative eHealth technologies are underway globally, often at very considerable cost. In order to assess the impact of eHealth solutions on the quality and safety of health care, and to inform policy decisions on eHealth deployments, we undertook a systematic review of systematic reviews assessing the effectiveness and consequences of various eHealth technologies on the quality and safety of care.
Methods and Findings
We developed novel search strategies, conceptual maps of health care quality, safety, and eHealth interventions, and then systematically identified, scrutinised, and synthesised the systematic review literature. Major biomedical databases were searched to identify systematic reviews published between 1997 and 2010. Related theoretical, methodological, and technical material was also reviewed. We identified 53 systematic reviews that focused on assessing the impact of eHealth interventions on the quality and/or safety of health care and 55 supplementary systematic reviews providing relevant supportive information. This systematic review literature was found to be generally of substandard quality with regards to methodology, reporting, and utility. We thematically categorised eHealth technologies into three main areas: (1) storing, managing, and transmission of data; (2) clinical decision support; and (3) facilitating care from a distance. We found that despite support from policymakers, there was relatively little empirical evidence to substantiate many of the claims made in relation to these technologies. Whether the success of those relatively few solutions identified to improve quality and safety would continue if these were deployed beyond the contexts in which they were originally developed, has yet to be established. Importantly, best practice guidelines in effective development and deployment strategies are lacking.
Conclusions
There is a large gap between the postulated and empirically demonstrated benefits of eHealth technologies. In addition, there is a lack of robust research on the risks of implementing these technologies and their cost-effectiveness has yet to be demonstrated, despite being frequently promoted by policymakers and “techno-enthusiasts” as if this was a given. In the light of the paucity of evidence in relation to improvements in patient outcomes, as well as the lack of evidence on their cost-effectiveness, it is vital that future eHealth technologies are evaluated against a comprehensive set of measures, ideally throughout all stages of the technology's life cycle. Such evaluation should be characterised by careful attention to socio-technical factors to maximise the likelihood of successful implementation and adoption.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
There is considerable international interest in exploiting the potential of digital health care solutions, often referred to as eHealth—the use of information and communication technologies—to enhance the quality and safety of health care. Often accompanied by large costs, any large-scale expenditure on eHealth—such as electronic health records, picture archiving and communication systems, ePrescribing, associated computerized provider order entry systems, and computerized decision support systems—has tended to be justified on the grounds that these are efficient and cost-effective means for improving health care. In 2005, the World Health Assembly passed an eHealth resolution (WHA 58.28) that acknowledged, “eHealth is the cost-effective and secure use of information and communications technologies in support of health and health-related fields, including health-care services, health surveillance, health literature, and health education, knowledge and research,” and urged member states to develop and implement eHealth technologies. Since then, implementing eHealth technologies has become a main priority for many countries. For example, England has invested at least £12.8 billion in a National Programme for Information Technology for the National Health Service, and the Obama administration in the United States has committed to a US$38 billion eHealth investment in health care.
Why Was This Study Done?
Despite the wide endorsement of and support for eHealth, the scientific basis of its benefits—which are repeatedly made and often uncritically accepted—remains to be firmly established. A robust evidence-based perspective on the advantages on eHealth could help to suggest priority areas that have the greatest potential for benefit to patients and also to inform international eHealth deliberations on costs. Therefore, in order to better inform the international community, the authors systematically reviewed the published systematic review literature on eHealth technologies and evaluated the impact of these technologies on the quality and safety of health care delivery.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers divided eHealth technologies into three main categories: (1) storing, managing, and transmission of data; (2) clinical decision support; and (3) facilitating care from a distance. Then, implementing methods based on those developed by the Cochrane Collaboration and the NHS Service Delivery and Organisation Programme, the researchers used detailed search strategies and maps of health care quality, safety, and eHealth interventions to identify relevant systematic reviews (and related theoretical, methodological, and technical material) published between 1997 and 2010. Using these techniques, the researchers retrieved a total of 46,349 references from which they identified 108 reviews. The 53 reviews that the researchers finally selected (and critically reviewed) provided the main evidence base for assessing the impact of eHealth technologies in the three categories selected.
In their systematic review of systematic reviews, the researchers included electronic health records and picture archiving communications systems in their evaluation of category 1, computerized provider (or physician) order entry and e-prescribing in category 2, and all clinical information systems that, when used in the context of eHealth technologies, integrate clinical and demographic patient information to support clinician decision making in category 3.
The researchers found that many of the clinical claims made about the most commonly used eHealth technologies were not substantiated by empirical evidence. The evidence base in support of eHealth technologies was weak and inconsistent and importantly, there was insubstantial evidence to support the cost-effectiveness of these technologies. For example, the researchers only found limited evidence that some of the many presumed benefits could be realized; importantly, they also found some evidence that introducing these new technologies may on occasions also generate new risks such as prescribers becoming over-reliant on clinical decision support for e-prescribing, or overestimate its functionality, resulting in decreased practitioner performance.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The researchers found that despite the wide support for eHealth technologies and the frequently made claims by policy makers when constructing business cases to raise funds for large-scale eHealth projects, there is as yet relatively little empirical evidence to substantiate many of the claims made about eHealth technologies. In addition, even for the eHealth technology tools that have proven to be successful, there is little evidence to show that such tools would continue to be successful beyond the contexts in which they were originally developed. Therefore, in light of the lack of evidence in relation to improvements in patient outcomes, as well as the lack of evidence on their cost-effectiveness, the authors say that future eHealth technologies should be evaluated against a comprehensive set of measures, ideally throughout all stages of the technology's life cycle, and include socio-technical factors to maximize the likelihood of successful implementation and adoption in a given context. Furthermore, it is equally important that eHealth projects that have already been commissioned are subject to rigorous, multidisciplinary, and independent evaluation.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000387.
The authors' broader study is: Car J, Black A, Anandan C, Cresswell K, Pagliari C, McKinstry B, et al. (2008) The Impact of eHealth on the Quality and Safety of Healthcare. Available at: http://www.haps.bham.ac.uk/publichealth/cfhep/001.shtml
More information is available on the World Health Assembly eHealth resolution
The World Health Organization provides information at the Global Observatory on eHealth, as well as a global insight into eHealth developments
The European Commission provides Information on eHealth in Europe and some examples of good eHealth practice
More information is provided on NHS Connecting for Health
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000387
PMCID: PMC3022523  PMID: 21267058
5.  Interactions between Non-Physician Clinicians and Industry: A Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(11):e1001561.
In a systematic review of studies of interactions between non-physician clinicians and industry, Quinn Grundy and colleagues found that many of the issues identified for physicians' industry interactions exist for non-physician clinicians.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
With increasing restrictions placed on physician–industry interactions, industry marketing may target other health professionals. Recent health policy developments confer even greater importance on the decision making of non-physician clinicians. The purpose of this systematic review is to examine the types and implications of non-physician clinician–industry interactions in clinical practice.
Methods and Findings
We searched MEDLINE and Web of Science from January 1, 1946, through June 24, 2013, according to PRISMA guidelines. Non-physician clinicians eligible for inclusion were: Registered Nurses, nurse prescribers, Physician Assistants, pharmacists, dieticians, and physical or occupational therapists; trainee samples were excluded. Fifteen studies met inclusion criteria. Data were synthesized qualitatively into eight outcome domains: nature and frequency of industry interactions; attitudes toward industry; perceived ethical acceptability of interactions; perceived marketing influence; perceived reliability of industry information; preparation for industry interactions; reactions to industry relations policy; and management of industry interactions. Non-physician clinicians reported interacting with the pharmaceutical and infant formula industries. Clinicians across disciplines met with pharmaceutical representatives regularly and relied on them for practice information. Clinicians frequently received industry “information,” attended sponsored “education,” and acted as distributors for similar materials targeted at patients. Clinicians generally regarded this as an ethical use of industry resources, and felt they could detect “promotion” while benefiting from industry “information.” Free samples were among the most approved and common ways that clinicians interacted with industry. Included studies were observational and of varying methodological rigor; thus, these findings may not be generalizable. This review is, however, the first to our knowledge to provide a descriptive analysis of this literature.
Conclusions
Non-physician clinicians' generally positive attitudes toward industry interactions, despite their recognition of issues related to bias, suggest that industry interactions are normalized in clinical practice across non-physician disciplines. Industry relations policy should address all disciplines and be implemented consistently in order to mitigate conflicts of interest and address such interactions' potential to affect patient care.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Making and selling health care goods (including drugs and devices) and services is big business. To maximize the profits they make for their shareholders, companies involved in health care build relationships with physicians by providing information on new drugs, organizing educational meetings, providing samples of their products, giving gifts, and holding sponsored events. These relationships help to keep physicians informed about new developments in health care but also create the potential for causing harm to patients and health care systems. These relationships may, for example, result in increased prescription rates of new, heavily marketed medications, which are often more expensive than their generic counterparts (similar unbranded drugs) and that are more likely to be recalled for safety reasons than long-established drugs. They may also affect the provision of health care services. Industry is providing an increasingly large proportion of routine health care services in many countries, so relationships built up with physicians have the potential to influence the commissioning of the services that are central to the treatment and well-being of patients.
Why Was This Study Done?
As a result of concerns about the tension between industry's need to make profits and the ethics underlying professional practice, restrictions are increasingly being placed on physician–industry interactions. In the US, for example, the Physician Payments Sunshine Act now requires US manufacturers of drugs, devices, and medical supplies that participate in federal health care programs to disclose all payments and gifts made to physicians and teaching hospitals. However, other health professionals, including those with authority to prescribe drugs such as pharmacists, Physician Assistants, and nurse practitioners are not covered by this legislation or by similar legislation in other settings, even though the restructuring of health care to prioritize primary care and multidisciplinary care models means that “non-physician clinicians” are becoming more numerous and more involved in decision-making and medication management. In this systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic), the researchers examine the nature and implications of the interactions between non-physician clinicians and industry.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 15 published studies that examined interactions between non-physician clinicians (Registered Nurses, nurse prescribers, midwives, pharmacists, Physician Assistants, and dieticians) and industry (corporations that produce health care goods and services). They extracted the data from 16 publications (representing 15 different studies) and synthesized them qualitatively (combined the data and reached word-based, rather than numerical, conclusions) into eight outcome domains, including the nature and frequency of interactions, non-physician clinicians' attitudes toward industry, and the perceived ethical acceptability of interactions. In the research the authors identified, non-physician clinicians reported frequent interactions with the pharmaceutical and infant formula industries. Most non-physician clinicians met industry representatives regularly, received gifts and samples, and attended educational events or received educational materials (some of which they distributed to patients). In these studies, non-physician clinicians generally regarded these interactions positively and felt they were an ethical and appropriate use of industry resources. Only a minority of non-physician clinicians felt that marketing influenced their own practice, although a larger percentage felt that their colleagues would be influenced. A sizeable proportion of non-physician clinicians questioned the reliability of industry information, but most were confident that they could detect biased information and therefore rated this information as reliable, valuable, or useful.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These and other findings suggest that non-physician clinicians generally have positive attitudes toward industry interactions but recognize issues related to bias and conflict of interest. Because these findings are based on a small number of studies, most of which were undertaken in the US, they may not be generalizable to other countries. Moreover, they provide no quantitative assessment of the interaction between non-physician clinicians and industry and no information about whether industry interactions affect patient care outcomes. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that industry interactions are normalized (seen as standard) in clinical practice across non-physician disciplines. This normalization creates the potential for serious risks to patients and health care systems. The researchers suggest that it may be unrealistic to expect that non-physician clinicians can be taught individually how to interact with industry ethically or how to detect and avert bias, particularly given the ubiquitous nature of marketing and promotional materials. Instead, they suggest, the environment in which non-physician clinicians practice should be structured to mitigate the potentially harmful effects of interactions with industry.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001561.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by James S. Yeh and Aaron S. Kesselheim
The American Medical Association provides guidance for physicians on interactions with pharmaceutical industry representatives, information about the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, and a toolkit for preparing Physician Payments Sunshine Act reports
The International Council of Nurses provides some guidance on industry interactions in its position statement on nurse-industry relations
The UK General Medical Council provides guidance on financial and commercial arrangements and conflicts of interest as part of its good medical practice website, which describes what is required of all registered doctors in the UK
Understanding and Responding to Pharmaceutical Promotion: A Practical Guide is a manual prepared by Health Action International and the World Health Organization that schools of medicine and pharmacy can use to train students how to recognize and respond to pharmaceutical promotion.
The Institute of Medicine's Report on Conflict of Interest in Medical Research, Education, and Practice recommends steps to identify, limit, and manage conflicts of interest
The University of California, San Francisco, Office of Continuing Medical Education offers a course called Marketing of Medicines
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001561
PMCID: PMC3841103  PMID: 24302892
6.  WHO Essential Medicines Policies and Use in Developing and Transitional Countries: An Analysis of Reported Policy Implementation and Medicines Use Surveys 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(9):e1001724.
Kathleen Holloway and David Henry evaluate whether countries that report having implemented WHO essential medicines policies have higher quality use of medicines.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Suboptimal medicine use is a global public health problem. For 35 years the World Health Organization (WHO) has promoted essential medicines policies to improve quality use of medicines (QUM), but evidence of their effectiveness is lacking, and uptake by countries remains low. Our objective was to determine whether WHO essential medicines policies are associated with better QUM.
Methods and Findings
We compared results from independently conducted medicines use surveys in countries that did versus did not report implementation of WHO essential medicines policies. We extracted survey data on ten validated QUM indicators and 36 self-reported policy implementation variables from WHO databases for 2002–2008. We calculated the average difference (as percent) for the QUM indicators between countries reporting versus not reporting implementation of specific policies. Policies associated with positive effects were included in a regression of a composite QUM score on total numbers of implemented policies. Data were available for 56 countries. Twenty-seven policies were associated with better use of at least two percentage points. Eighteen policies were associated with significantly better use (unadjusted p<0.05), of which four were associated with positive differences of 10% or more: undergraduate training of doctors in standard treatment guidelines, undergraduate training of nurses in standard treatment guidelines, the ministry of health having a unit promoting rational use of medicines, and provision of essential medicines free at point of care to all patients. In regression analyses national wealth was positively associated with the composite QUM score and the number of policies reported as being implemented in that country. There was a positive correlation between the number of policies (out of the 27 policies with an effect size of 2% or more) that countries reported implementing and the composite QUM score (r = 0.39, 95% CI 0.14 to 0.59, p = 0.003). This correlation weakened but remained significant after inclusion of national wealth in multiple linear regression analyses. Multiple policies were more strongly associated with the QUM score in the 28 countries with gross national income per capita below the median value (US$2,333) (r = 0.43, 95% CI 0.06 to 0.69, p = 0.023) than in the 28 countries with values above the median (r = 0.22, 95% CI −0.15 to 0.56, p = 0.261). The main limitations of the study are the reliance on self-report of policy implementation and measures of medicine use from small surveys. While the data can be used to explore the association of essential medicines policies with medicine use, they cannot be used to compare or benchmark individual country performance.
Conclusions
WHO essential medicines policies are associated with improved QUM, particularly in low-income countries.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
The widespread availability of effective medicines, particularly those used to treat infectious diseases, has been largely responsible for a doubling in the average global life expectancy over the past century. However, the suboptimal use (overuse and underuse) of medicines is an ongoing global public health problem. The unnecessary use of medicines (for example, the use of antibiotics for sore throats caused by viruses) needlessly consumes scarce resources and has undesirable effects such as encouraging the emergence of antibiotic resistance. Conversely, underuse deprives people of the undisputed benefits of many medicines. Since 1977, to help optimize medicine use, the World Health Organization (WHO) has advocated the concept of “essential medicines” and has developed policies to promote the quality use of medicines (QUM). Essential medicines are drugs that satisfy the priority needs of the human population and that should always be available to communities in adequate amounts of assured quality, in the appropriate dosage forms, and at an affordable price. Policies designed to promote QUM include recommendations that medicines should be free at the point of care and that all health care professionals should be educated about the WHO list of essential medicines (which is revised every two years) throughout their careers.
Why Was This Study Done?
Surveys of WHO member countries undertaken in 2003 and 2007 suggest that the implementation of WHO policies designed to promote QUM is patchy. Moreover, little is known about whether these policies are effective, particularly in middle- and low-income countries. For most of these countries, it is not known whether any of the policies affect validated QUM indicators such as the percentage of patients prescribed antibiotics (a lower percentage indicates better use of medicines) or the percentage of patients treated in compliance with national treatment guidelines (a higher percentage indicates better use of medicines). Here, the researchers analyze data from policy implementation questionnaires and medicine use surveys to determine whether implementation of WHO essential medicines policies is associated with improved QUM in low- and middle-income countries.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers extracted data on ten validated QUM indicators and on implementation of 36 policy variables from WHO databases for 2002–2008 and compared the average differences for the QUM indicators between low- and middle-income countries that did versus did not report implementation of specific WHO policies for QUM. Among 56 countries for which data were available, 27 policies were associated with improved QUM. Four policies were particularly effective, namely, doctors' undergraduate training in standard treatment guidelines, nurses' undergraduate training in standard treatment guidelines, the existence of a ministry of health department promoting the rational use of medicines, and the provision of essential medicines free to all patients at point of care. The researchers also analyzed correlations between how many of the 27 effective policies were implemented in a country and a composite QUM score. As national wealth increased, both the composite QUM score of a country and the reported number of policies implemented by the country increased. There was also a positive correlation between the numbers of policies that countries reported implementing and their composite QUM score. Finally, the implementation of multiple policies was more strongly associated with the composite QUM score in countries with a gross national income per capita below the average for the study countries than in countries with a gross national income above the average.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that between 2002 and 2008, the reported implementation of WHO essential medicines policies was associated with better QUM across low- and middle-income countries. These findings also reveal a positive correlation between the number of policies that countries report implementing and their QUM. Notably, this correlation was strongest in the countries with the lowest per capita national wealth levels, which underscores the importance of essential medicines policies in low-income countries. Because of the nature of the data available to the researchers, these findings do not show that the implementation of WHO policies actually causes improvements in QUM. Moreover, the age of the data, the reliance on self-report of policy implementation, and the small sample sizes of the medicine use surveys may all have introduced some inaccuracies into these findings. Nevertheless, overall, these findings suggest that WHO should continue to develop its medicine policies and to collect data on medicine use as part of its core functions.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001724.
The World Health Organization provides information about essential medicines; its latest lists of essential medicines are available on the Internet; information about WHO policies to improve the quality use of medicines is also available (in several languages)
The International Network for the Rational Use of Drugs designs, tests, and disseminates effective strategies to improve the way drugs are prescribed, dispensed, and used, particularly in resource-poor countries
The essentialdrugs.org website helps health care professionals, researchers, and policy makers obtain and discuss current information on essential drugs, policy, program activities, education, and training (available in several languages); the website is run by Satellife, which aims to use technology to connect health workers in resource-limited countries to each other and to up-to-date clinical and public health content
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001724
PMCID: PMC4165598  PMID: 25226527
7.  Parents Seeking Health-Related Information on the Internet: Cross-Sectional Study 
Background
The Internet represents an increasingly common source of health-related information, and it has facilitated a wide range of interactions between people and the health care delivery system.
Objective
To establish the extent of Internet access and use to gather information about health topics and the potential implications to health care among the adult population in Calabria region, Italy.
Methods
This cross-sectional study was conducted from April to June 2012. The sample consisted of 1544 adults aged ≥18 years selected among parents of public school students in the geographic area of Catanzaro in southern Italy. A 2-stage sample design was planned. A letter summarizing the purpose of the study, an informed consent form, and a questionnaire were given to selected student to deliver to their parents. The final survey was formulated in 5 sections: (1) sociodemographic characteristics, (2) information about chronic diseases and main sources of health care information, (3) information about Internet use, (4) data about the effects of using the Internet to search for health information, and (5) knowledge and use of social networks.
Results
A total of 1039 parents completed the questionnaire, with a response rate equivalent to 67.29%. Regarding health-related information types, 84.7% of respondents used the Internet to search for their own medical conditions or those of family members or relatives, 40.7% of parents reported looking for diet, body weight, or physical activity information, 29.6% searched for vaccines, 28.5% for screening programs, and 16.5% for smoking cessation tools and products. The results of the multiple logistic regression analysis showed that parents who looked for health-related information on the Internet were more likely to be female (OR 1.53, 95% CI 1.05-2.25), with a high school diploma (OR 1.69, 95% CI 1.02-2.81) or college degree (OR 2.14, 95% CI 1.21-3.78), younger aged (OR 0.96, 95% CI 0.94-0.99), with chronic conditions (OR 1.94, 95% CI 1.17-3.19), not satisfied with their general practitioner’s health-related information (OR 0.6, 95% CI 0.38-0.97), but satisfied with information from scientific journals (OR 1.99, 95% CI 1.33-2.98).
Conclusions
Our analyses provide important insights into Internet use and health information–seeking behaviors of the Italian population and contribute to the evidence base for health communication planning. Health and public health professionals should educate the public about acquiring health information online and how to critically appraise it, and provide tools to navigate to the highest-quality information. The challenge to public health practice is to facilitate the health-promoting use of the Web among consumers in conjunction with their health care providers.
doi:10.2196/jmir.2752
PMCID: PMC3785974  PMID: 24047937
adult; consumer health information; cross-sectional studies; health survey; Internet; Italy; questionnaires
8.  A framework for evaluating e-health: Systematic review of studies assessing the quality of health information and services for patients on the Internet 
Context
A recent concern and topic of many publications in the last three years has been the quality of health information and services for the public on the Internet.
Objectives
To identify and summarize studies published in the peer-reviewed literature evaluating the quality of information and services for consumers on the Internet, including information published on web sites, information on newsgroups and mailing lists and other venues such as email contacts with doctors, as well as studies evaluating the quality of ehealth services such as cyberdoctors and cyberpharmacies.
Data Sources
MEDLINE and PREMEDLINE (1966 - May 2000), Science Citation Index (1992-May 2000), Social Sciences Citation Index (1992- May 2000), Arts and Humanities Citation Index (1992-May 2000) and a personal bibliographic database.
Study Selection
We included empirical studies where investigators searched the Internet systematically for specific health information or clearly define a set of specific services to be included, evaluated the quality of information or services found, and reported quantitative data.
Data Extraction
Study characteristics, medical domain, search strategies used, quality criteria and methodology of quality assessment, results (number of sites rated as sufficient pertaining to a quality), quality and rigor of study methodology and reporting.
Data Synthesis
A total of 41 studies met the inclusion criteria, dealing either with content of websites, information on e-commerce sites, quality of online-care or community venues. A) Content: 29 evaluated information on websites, of those 5 evaluated information on websites from the field of pediatrics, 3 from oncology, 3 pharmacology information, 2 nutrition information, 4 general clinical information and 12 specific information from other clinical disciplines. Studies varied widely in methodology, quality and results. Among the 29 studies dealing with quality of health information on websites, one study evaluated the authority of source, 19 studies checked sites for presence or absences of technical criteria (such as disclosure of sponsorship, authorship, presence of references or last update), three evaluated readability, 20 evaluated the accuracy of information, and 12 content completeness. B) E-Commerce: Three studies dealt with drug information on e-commerce sites. To evaluate the quality authors extracted prices, checked for completeness of online-history taking and/or information provided on the site e.g. pertaining to contraindications or the presence/absence of disclaimers and/or liability waivers. Only one of these three studies actually used the service by ordering drugs, allowing to evaluate quality of online-advice, qualification of cyberdocs, delivery time, reasons for non-delivery. C) Care: Five studies dealt with the quality of online consultations, of them one dealt with advice given by ordinary physicians in response to a unsolicited fictionous patient request, two evaluated the responses of cyberdocs soliciting patient requests, and two evaluated advice given in response to a request for an online prescription directed to drug e-commerce sites. D) Community: Seven studies evaluated messages on mailing lists or usenet newsgroups. Two studies collected messages from a venue and evaluated them for accuracy, two studies posted a "test" message on a newsgroup and evaluated the accuracy of responses. In three studies authors used the cumulative impact factor of the published research of the mailing list contributors as an indicator for the qualification of the authors and thus as quality indicator of the mailing list.
Of the 23 studies evaluating accuracy and/or completeness of information provided on websites, 10 used guidelines as gold standard (all of the to extract a-priori criteria), five used peer-reviewed literature (all to compare information a posteriori), two used textbooks, one used consensus among the raters and three used the personal experience or opinion of the author. All three studies which compared information against personal opinion came to a positive conclusion regarding the accuracy of information, while all of the more rigorous studies comparing information against guidelines concluded that much of the information found on the web were of low quality. In two cases it was not reported where the gold standard comes from. 9 studies used more than one rater to assess a website, 6 of them provided some sort of information on inter-observer variability.
Conclusions
Methodology, results and conclusions of investigators vary widely. There is a wide variability even regarding the evaluation of formal criteria such as authorship and references. Differences in study conclusions regarding the quality of Internet information are likely a result of difference in study rigor, evaluation criteria and topic chosen. All but five studies concluded that quality is a problem on the Internet. The rigor of these five studies coming to a more positive conclusion as expressed in a "assessment quality score" was significantly inferior to the remaining studies.
Although there were two comparative studies of the quality of information on the Internet compared with information found outside of the Internet, there is little evidence that health information found on the Internet is worse than health information in traditional media.
A conceptual and methodological framework is presented for describing, comparing, and analyzing the structure and quality of e-health, based on Donabedians quality measures of structure, process and outcome.
doi:10.2196/jmir.2.suppl2.e13
PMCID: PMC1761875
9.  A framework for evaluating e-health: Systematic review of studies assessing the quality of health information and services for patients on the Internet 
Context
A recent concern and topic of many publications in the last three years has been the quality of health information and services for the public on the Internet.
Objectives
To identify and summarize studies published in the peer-reviewed literature evaluating the quality of information and services for consumers on the Internet, including information published on web sites, information on newsgroups and mailing lists and other venues such as email contacts with doctors, as well as studies evaluating the quality of ehealth services such as cyberdoctors and cyberpharmacies.
Data Sources
MEDLINE and PREMEDLINE (1966 - May 2000), Science Citation Index (1992-May 2000), Social Sciences Citation Index (1992- May 2000), Arts and Humanities Citation Index (1992-May 2000) and a personal bibliographic database.
Study Selection
We included empirical studies where investigators searched the Internet systematically for specific health information or clearly define a set of specific services to be included, evaluated the quality of information or services found, and reported quantitative data.
Data Extraction
Study characteristics, medical domain, search strategies used, quality criteria and methodology of quality assessment, results (number of sites rated as sufficient pertaining to a quality), quality and rigor of study methodology and reporting.
Data Synthesis
A total of 41 studies met the inclusion criteria, dealing either with content of websites, information on e-commerce sites, quality of online-care or community venues. A) Content: 29 evaluated information on websites, of those 5 evaluated information on websites from the field of pediatrics, 3 from oncology, 3 pharmacology information, 2 nutrition information, 4 general clinical information and 12 specific information from other clinical disciplines. Studies varied widely in methodology, quality and results. Among the 29 studies dealing with quality of health information on websites, one study evaluated the authority of source, 19 studies checked sites for presence or absences of technical criteria (such as disclosure of sponsorship, authorship, presence of references or last update), three evaluated readability, 20 evaluated the accuracy of information, and 12 content completeness. B) E-Commerce: Three studies dealt with drug information on e-commerce sites. To evaluate the quality authors extracted prices, checked for completeness of online-history taking and/or information provided on the site e.g. pertaining to contraindications or the presence/absence of disclaimers and/or liability waivers. Only one of these three studies actually used the service by ordering drugs, allowing to evaluate quality of online-advice, qualification of cyberdocs, delivery time, reasons for non-delivery. C) Care: Five studies dealt with the quality of online consultations, of them one dealt with advice given by ordinary physicians in response to a unsolicited fictionous patient request, two evaluated the responses of cyberdocs soliciting patient requests, and two evaluated advice given in response to a request for an online prescription directed to drug e-commerce sites. D) Community: Seven studies evaluated messages on mailing lists or usenet newsgroups. Two studies collected messages from a venue and evaluated them for accuracy, two studies posted a "test" message on a newsgroup and evaluated the accuracy of responses. In three studies authors used the cumulative impact factor of the published research of the mailing list contributors as an indicator for the qualification of the authors and thus as quality indicator of the mailing list.
Of the 23 studies evaluating accuracy and/or completeness of information provided on websites, 10 used guidelines as gold standard (all of the to extract a-priori criteria), five used peer-reviewed literature (all to compare information a posteriori), two used textbooks, one used consensus among the raters and three used the personal experience or opinion of the author. All three studies which compared information against personal opinion came to a positive conclusion regarding the accuracy of information, while all of the more rigorous studies comparing information against guidelines concluded that much of the information found on the web were of low quality. In two cases it was not reported where the gold standard comes from. 9 studies used more than one rater to assess a website, 6 of them provided some sort of information on inter-observer variability.
Conclusions
Methodology, results and conclusions of investigators vary widely. There is a wide variability even regarding the evaluation of formal criteria such as authorship and references. Differences in study conclusions regarding the quality of Internet information are likely a result of difference in study rigor, evaluation criteria and topic chosen. All but five studies concluded that quality is a problem on the Internet. The rigor of these five studies coming to a more positive conclusion as expressed in a "assessment quality score" was significantly inferior to the remaining studies.
Although there were two comparative studies of the quality of information on the Internet compared with information found outside of the Internet, there is little evidence that health information found on the Internet is worse than health information in traditional media.
A conceptual and methodological framework is presented for describing, comparing, and analyzing the structure and quality of e-health, based on Donabedians quality measures of structure, process and outcome.
doi:10.2196/jmir.2.suppl2.e9
PMCID: PMC1761871
10.  Trust in the Internet as a Health Resource Among Older Adults: Analysis of Data from a Nationally Representative Survey 
Background
Distrust in the Internet as a source of health information remains common among older adults. The influence of this distrust on Internet use for health-related purposes, however, is unclear.
Objective
The objective of our study was to explore how older adults’ trust in the Internet influences their online health-related activities, and to identify potential targets for improving health-related Internet resources for older adults.
Methods
Data were obtained from a nationally representative, random digit-dial telephone survey of 1450 adults 50 years of age and older in the United States. A model was developed to conceptualize the hypothesized relationships among individual characteristics, distrust, and avoidance of the Internet as a health resource. Multivariate logistic regression analyses were conducted to examine the association between trust in online health information and use of the Internet for health-related purposes. Additional multivariate logistic regression analyses were conducted to identify the key characteristics associated with trust in online health information, adding sequentially the variables hypothesized to account for distrust among older adults: sociodemographic and health characteristics, inexperience and technical difficulties with the Internet, negative feelings toward the Internet, and lack of awareness about the sources providing the health information found online.
Results
The mean (SD) age of the study population was 63.7 (10.6) years. Of the 823 (56.8%) Internet users, 628 (76.3%) reported using the Internet as a health resource. Trust in the Internet as a source of health information was associated with using the Internet for a number of health activities, including searching for information about a specific health condition (adjusted OR 4.43, P < .001), purchasing prescription drugs (adjusted OR 2.61, P = .03), and talking with a health care provider about information found online (adjusted OR 2.54, P = .002). Older adults (age ≥65 years) were less likely to trust the Internet as a source of health information (OR 0.63, P = .04), even after adjusting for other sociodemographic characteristics and health and function. This age effect was only slightly attenuated (adjusted OR 0.69, P = .13) after adjusting for inexperience and technical difficulties with the Internet, but it disappeared entirely (adjusted OR 0.96, P = .91) after adjusting for other hypothesized contributors to distrust (including finding the Internet confusing because it provides “too much information,” and lacking awareness about the source providing health information found online).
Conclusions
Website design features that clearly identify the source and credibility of information and minimize confusion may build trust among older adults and offer an opportunity to increase the utility of the Internet as a health resource for this population.
doi:10.2196/jmir.1552
PMCID: PMC3221340  PMID: 21324832
Older adults; Trust; Online health information
11.  Surfing the internet for health information: an italian survey on use and population choices 
Background
Recent international sources have described how the rapid expansion of the Internet has precipitated an increase in its use by the general population to search for medical information. Most studies on e-health use investigated either through the prevalence of such use and the social and income patterns of users in selected populations, or the psychological consequences and satisfaction experienced by patients with particular diseases. Few studies have been carried out in Europe that have tried to identify the behavioral consequences of Internet use for health-related purposes in the general population.
The aims of this study are to provide information about the prevalence of Internet use for health-related purposes in Italy according to demographic and socio-cultural features, to investigate the impact of the information found on health-related behaviors and choices and to analyze any differences based on health condition, self-rated health and relationships with health professionals and facilities.
Methods
A multicenter survey was designed within six representative Italian cities. Data were collected through a validated questionnaire administered in hospital laboratories by physicians. Respondents were questioned about their generic condition, their use of the Internet and their health behaviors and choices related to Internet use. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics and logistic regression to assess any differences by socio-demographic and health-related variables.
Results
The sample included 3018 individuals between the ages of 18 and 65 years. Approximately 65% of respondents reported using the Internet, and 57% of them reported using it to search for health-related information. The main reasons for search on the Internet were faster access and a greater amount of information. People using the Internet more for health-related purposes were younger, female and affected by chronic diseases.
Conclusions
A large number of Internet users search for health information and subsequently modify their health behaviors and relationships with their medical providers. This may suggest a strong public health impact with consequences in all European countries, and it would be prudent to plan educational and prevention programs. However, it could be important to investigate the quality of health-related websites to protect and inform users.
doi:10.1186/1472-6947-11-21
PMCID: PMC3079597  PMID: 21470435
Cross-sectional; Health; Internet; Behavior
12.  Advice from a Medical Expert through the Internet on Queries about AIDS and Hepatitis: Analysis of a Pilot Experiment 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(7):e256.
Background
Advice from a medical expert on concerns and queries expressed anonymously through the Internet by patients and later posted on the Web, offers a new type of patient–doctor relationship. The aim of the current study was to perform a descriptive analysis of questions about AIDS and hepatitis made to an infectious disease expert and sent through the Internet to a consumer-oriented Web site in the Spanish language.
Methods and Findings
Questions were e-mailed and the questions and answers were posted anonymously in the “expert-advice” section of a Web site focused on AIDS and hepatitis. We performed a descriptive study and a temporal analysis of the questions received in the first 12 months after the launch of the site. A total of 899 questions were received from December 2003 to November 2004, with a marked linear growth pattern. Questions originated in Spain in 68% of cases and 32% came from Latin America (the Caribbean, Central America, and South America). Eighty percent of the senders were male. Most of the questions concerned HIV infection (79%) with many fewer on hepatitis (17%) . The highest numbers of questions were submitted just after the weekend (37% of questions were made on Mondays and Tuesdays). Risk factors for contracting HIV infection were the most frequent concern (69%), followed by the window period for detection (12.6%), laboratory results (5.9%), symptoms (4.7%), diagnosis (2.7%), and treatment (2.2%).
Conclusions
Our results confirm a great demand for this type of “ask-the-expert” Internet service, at least for AIDS and hepatitis. Factors such as anonymity, free access, and immediate answers have been key factors in its success.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Although substantial progress has been made in the fight against HIV/AIDS, in terms of developing new treatments and understanding factors that cause the disease to worsen, putting this knowledge into practice can be difficult. Two main barriers exist that can prevent individuals seeking information or treatment. The first is the considerable social stigma still associated with HIV; the second is the poverty of the developing countries—such as those in Latin America—where the disease has reached pandemic proportions. In addition, the disease, which used to be spread mainly through the sharing of injecting drug needles or through sex between men, has now entered the general population. When healthcare services are limited, people are often unable to seek information about HIV, and even when services do exist, the cost of accessing them can be too high. The same is true for other diseases such as hepatitis infection, which often co-exists with HIV. The Internet has the potential to go some way to filling this health information gap. And, many patients seek information on the Internet before consulting their doctor.
Why Was This Study Done?
In 2003, the Madrid-based newspaper El Mundo launched an HIV and hepatitis information resource situated in the health section of its existing Web site. One aspect of this resource was an “ask-the-expert” section, in which readers could anonymously e-mail questions about HIV and hepatitis that would be answered by an infectious disease expert. These ranged from how the diseases can be transmitted and who is most at risk, to what to do if an individual thinks they might have the disease. There seems to be a clear need for this Spanish-language service; in Latin America, 2.1 million people are infected with HIV, with 230,000 new cases in 2005. In the Caribbean, AIDS is the leading cause of death in people aged 15–44 years. In Spain, 71,000 people were infected with HIV in 2005. Although the Internet contains a vast store of health information, and many aspects of patient–doctor interactions have been made electronic, little is known about what format is ideal. The researchers, who included employees of the newspaper, decided to investigate the effectiveness of the question–answer format used by El Mundo.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In the first 12 months after the service was launched, the researchers recorded several details: what day of the week questions were sent, what the questions were about, and whether they were sent by the person needing the information or by a family member or friend. They also noted demographic information, such as the age, sex, and country of origin of the person e-mailing the question.
Of 899 questions sent to the Web site between December 2003 and November 2004, most (80%) were sent by males. Most questions came from Spain, followed by Latin America, and most questions were sent on Mondays and Tuesdays. Some e-mails were from people who felt they had been waiting too long for an answer to their first e-mail—despite the mean time for answering a question being fewer than seven days. Messages of support for the Web site rose during the year from 2% to 22%.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The messages of support and encouragement sent in by users indicated that the service was well-received and useful. Most of the questions were about HIV rather than about hepatitis, which the researchers say could represent the more prominent media coverage of HIV. However, despite the disease's high profile, the questions about HIV were very basic. It could also mean that people hold a false impression that hepatitis is a less serious illness or that they have more information about it than about HIV.
Since most questions were sent in at the start of the week, the researchers believe that many individuals wrote in after engaging in potentially risky sexual behaviour over the weekend.
The researchers also found that existing information on the Web site already answered many of the new questions, indicating that people prefer a question-and-answer model over ready-prepared information. The anonymity, free access, and immediacy of the Internet-based service suggest this could be a model for providing other types of health information.
The findings also suggest that such a service can highlight the needs and concerns of specific populations and can help health planners and policymakers respond to those needs in their countries.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030256.
• The AIDSinfo Web site from the US Department of Health and Human Services provides information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention and has sections specially written for patients and the general public
• AVERT, an international AIDS charity, has a section on HIV in Latin America that includes details of transmission, infection rates, and treatment
Marco and colleagues analyzed questions sent by the public to a Spanish language "ask-the-expert" Internet site, and found that 70% of queries were about risk factors for acquiring HIV.
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030256
PMCID: PMC1483911  PMID: 16796404
13.  eHealth Trends in Europe 2005-2007: A Population-Based Survey 
Background
In the last decade, the number of Internet users worldwide has dramatically increased. People are using the Internet for various health-related purposes. It is important to monitor such use as it may have an impact on the individual’s health and behavior, patient-practitioner roles, and on general health care provision.
Objectives
This study investigates trends and patterns of European health-related Internet use over a period of 18 months. The main study objective was to estimate the change in the proportion of the population using the Internet for health purposes, and the importance of the Internet as a source of health information compared to more traditional sources.
Methods
The survey data were collected through computer-assisted telephone interviews. A representative sample (N = 14,956) from seven European countries has been used: Denmark, Germany, Greece, Latvia, Norway, Poland, and Portugal. The European eHealth Consumer Trends Survey was first conducted in October-November 2005 and repeated in April-May 2007. In addition to providing background information, respondents were asked to rate the importance of various sources of health information. They were also queried as to the frequency of different online activities related to health and illness and the effects of such use on their disposition.
Results
The percentage of the population that has used the Internet for health purposes increased from an estimated 42.3% (95% CI [Confidence Interval] 41.3 - 43.3) in 2005 to an estimated 52.2% (95% CI 51.3 - 53.2) in 2007. Significant growth in the use of the Internet for health purposes was found in all the seven countries. Young women are the most active Internet health users. The importance of the Internet as a source of health information has increased. In 2007, the Internet was perceived as an important source of health information by an estimated 46.8% (95% CI 45.7 - 47.9) of the population, a significant increase of 6.5 % (95% CI 4.9 - 8.1) from 2005. The importance of all the traditional health information channels has either decreased or remained the same. An estimated 22.7% (95% CI 21.7 - 23.6) are using it for more interactive services than just reading health information.
Conclusion
The Internet is increasingly being used as a source of health information by the European population, and its perceived importance is rising. Use of the Internet for health purposes is growing in all age groups and for both men and women, with especially strong growth among young women. We see that experienced Internet health users are also using the Internet as an active communication channel, both for reaching health professionals and for communicating with peers.
doi:10.2196/jmir.1023
PMCID: PMC2629359  PMID: 19017584
Internet; patient-provider communication; Internet health communication; electronic mail; information services, trends, and utilization; medical informatics; health services; demography; data collection; health care surveys
14.  Uncovering Treatment Burden as a Key Concept for Stroke Care: A Systematic Review of Qualitative Research 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(6):e1001473.
In a systematic review of qualitative research, Katie Gallacher and colleagues examine the evidence related to treatment burden after stroke from the patient perspective.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Patients with chronic disease may experience complicated management plans requiring significant personal investment. This has been termed ‘treatment burden’ and has been associated with unfavourable outcomes. The aim of this systematic review is to examine the qualitative literature on treatment burden in stroke from the patient perspective.
Methods and Findings
The search strategy centred on: stroke, treatment burden, patient experience, and qualitative methods. We searched: Scopus, CINAHL, Embase, Medline, and PsycINFO. We tracked references, footnotes, and citations. Restrictions included: English language, date of publication January 2000 until February 2013. Two reviewers independently carried out the following: paper screening, data extraction, and data analysis. Data were analysed using framework synthesis, as informed by Normalization Process Theory. Sixty-nine papers were included. Treatment burden includes: (1) making sense of stroke management and planning care, (2) interacting with others, (3) enacting management strategies, and (4) reflecting on management. Health care is fragmented, with poor communication between patient and health care providers. Patients report inadequate information provision. Inpatient care is unsatisfactory, with a perceived lack of empathy from professionals and a shortage of stimulating activities on the ward. Discharge services are poorly coordinated, and accessing health and social care in the community is difficult. The study has potential limitations because it was restricted to studies published in English only and data from low-income countries were scarce.
Conclusions
Stroke management is extremely demanding for patients, and treatment burden is influenced by micro and macro organisation of health services. Knowledge deficits mean patients are ill equipped to organise their care and develop coping strategies, making adherence less likely. There is a need to transform the approach to care provision so that services are configured to prioritise patient needs rather than those of health care systems.
Systematic Review Registration
International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews CRD42011001123
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, 15 million people have a stroke. About 5 million of these people die within a few days, and another 5 million are left disabled. Stroke occurs when the blood supply of the brain is suddenly interrupted by a blood vessel in the brain being blocked by a blood clot (ischemic stroke) or bursting (hemorrhagic stroke). Deprived of the oxygen normally carried to them by the blood, the brain cells near the blockage die. The symptoms of stroke depend on which part of the brain is damaged but include sudden weakness or paralysis along one side of the body, vision loss in one or both eyes, and confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention because prompt treatment can limit the damage to the brain. In the longer term, post-stroke rehabilitation can help individuals overcome the physical disabilities caused by stroke, and drugs that thin the blood, reduce blood pressure and reduce cholesterol (major risk factors for stroke) alongside behavioral counseling can reduce the risk of a second stroke.
Why Was This Study Done?
Treatment for, and rehabilitation from, stroke is a lengthy process that requires considerable personal investment from the patient. The term “treatment burden” describes the self-care practices that patients with stroke and other chronic diseases must perform to follow the complicated management strategies that have been developed for these conditions. Unfortunately, treatment burden can overwhelm patients. They may be unable to cope with the multiple demands placed on them by health-care providers and systems for their self-care, a situation that leads to poor adherence to therapies and poor outcomes. For example, patients may find it hard to complete all the exercises designed to help them regain full movement of their limbs after a stroke. Treatment burden has been poorly examined in relation to stroke. Here, the researchers identify and describe the treatment burden in stroke by undertaking a systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the literature on a given topic) of qualitative studies on the patient experience of stroke management. Qualitative studies collect non-quantitative data so, for example, a qualitative study on stroke treatment might ask people how the treatment made them feel whereas a quantitative study might compare clinical outcomes between those receiving and not receiving the treatment.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 69 qualitative studies dealing with the experiences of stroke management of adult patients and analyzed the data in these papers using framework synthesis—an approach that divides data into thematic categories. Specifically, the researchers used a coding framework informed by normalization process theory, a sociological theory of the implementation, embedding and integration of tasks and practices; embedding is the process of making tasks and practices a routine part of everyday life and integration refers to sustaining these embedded practices. The researchers identified four main areas of treatment burden for stroke: making sense of stroke management and planning care; interacting with others, including health care professionals, family and other patients with stroke; enacting management strategies (including enduring institutional admissions, managing stroke in the community, reintegrating into society and adjusting to life after stroke); and reflecting on management to make decisions about self-care. Moreover, they identified problems in all these areas, including inadequate provision of information, poor communication with health-care providers, and unsatisfactory inpatient care.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that stroke management is extremely demanding for patients and is influenced by both the micro and macro organization of health services. At the micro organizational level, fragmented care and poor communication between patients and clinicians and between health-care providers can mean patients are ill equipped to organize their care and develop coping strategies, which makes adherence to management strategies less likely. At the macro organizational level, it can be hard for patients to obtain the practical and financial help they need to manage their stroke in the community. Overall, these findings suggest that care provision for stroke needs to be transformed so that the needs of patients rather than the needs of health-care systems are prioritized. Further work is required, however, to understand how the patient experience of treatment burden is affected by the clinical characteristics of stroke, by disability level, and by other co-existing diseases. By undertaking such work, it should be possible to generate a patient-reported outcome measure of treatment burden that, if used by policy makers and health-care providers, has the potential to improve the quality of stroke care.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001473.
The US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke provides information about all aspects of stroke (in English and Spanish); its Know Stroke site provides educational materials about stroke prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation including personal stories (in English and Spanish); the US National Institutes of Health SeniorHealth website has additional information about stroke
The Internet Stroke Center provides detailed information about stroke for patients, families, and health professionals (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website also provides information about stroke for patients and their families, including personal stories
MedlinePlus has links to additional resources about stroke (in English and Spanish)
The UK not-for-profit website Healthtalkonline provides personal stories about stroke
Wikipedia provides information on the burden of treatment and on the normalization process theory (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001473
PMCID: PMC3692487  PMID: 23824703
15.  Use of the Internet as a Resource for Consumer Health Information: Results of the Second Osteopathic Survey of Health Care in America (OSTEOSURV-II) 
Background
The Internet offers consumers unparalleled opportunities to acquire health information. The emergence of the Internet, rather than more-traditional sources, for obtaining health information is worthy of ongoing surveillance, including identification of the factors associated with using the Internet for this purpose.
Objectives
To measure the prevalence of Internet use as a mechanism for obtaining health information in the United States; to compare such Internet use with newspapers or magazines, radio, and television; and to identify sociodemographic factors associated with using the Internet for acquiring health information.
Methods
Data were acquired from the Second Osteopathic Survey of Health Care in America (OSTEOSURV-II), a national telephone survey using random-digit dialing within the United States during 2000. The target population consisted of adult, noninstitutionalized, household members. As part of the survey, data were collected on: facility with the Internet, sources of health information, and sociodemographic characteristics. Multivariate analysis was used to identify factors associated with acquiring health information on the Internet.
Results
A total of 499 (64% response rate) respondents participated in the survey. With the exception of an overrepresentation of women (66%), respondents were generally similar to national referents. Fifty percent of respondents either strongly agreed or agreed that they felt comfortable using the Internet as a health information resource. The prevalence rates of using the health information sources were: newspapers or magazines, 69%; radio, 30%; television, 56%; and the Internet, 32%. After adjusting for potential confounders, older respondents were more likely than younger respondents to use newspapers or magazines and television to acquire health information, but less likely to use the Internet. Higher education was associated with greater use of newspapers or magazines and the Internet as health information sources. Internet use was lower in rural than urban or suburban areas.
Conclusions
The Internet has already surpassed radio as a source of health information but still lags substantially behind print media and television. Significant barriers to acquiring health information on the Internet remain among persons 60 years of age or older, those with 12 or fewer years of education, and those residing in rural areas. Stronger efforts are needed to ensure access to and facility with the Internet among all segments of the population. This includes user-friendly access for older persons with visual or other functional impairments, providing low-literacy Web sites, and expanding Internet infrastructure to reach all areas of the United States.
doi:10.2196/jmir.3.4.e31
PMCID: PMC1761915  PMID: 11772546
Internet, health care surveys, socioeconomic factors, age factors, family practice
16.  Diet and Physical Activity for the Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Systematic Policy Review 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(6):e1001465.
Carl Lachat and colleagues evaluate policies in low- and middle-income countries addressing salt and fat consumption, fruit and vegetable intake, and physical activity, key risk factors for non-communicable diseases.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Diet-related noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) are increasing rapidly in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and constitute a leading cause of mortality. Although a call for global action has been resonating for years, the progress in national policy development in LMICs has not been assessed. This review of strategies to prevent NCDs in LMICs provides a benchmark against which policy response can be tracked over time.
Methods and Findings
We reviewed how government policies in LMICs outline actions that address salt consumption, fat consumption, fruit and vegetable intake, or physical activity. A structured content analysis of national nutrition, NCDs, and health policies published between 1 January 2004 and 1 January 2013 by 140 LMIC members of the World Health Organization (WHO) was carried out. We assessed availability of policies in 83% (116/140) of the countries. NCD strategies were found in 47% (54/116) of LMICs reviewed, but only a minority proposed actions to promote healthier diets and physical activity. The coverage of policies that specifically targeted at least one of the risk factors reviewed was lower in Africa, Europe, the Americas, and the Eastern Mediterranean compared to the other two World Health Organization regions, South-East Asia and Western Pacific. Of the countries reviewed, only 12% (14/116) proposed a policy that addressed all four risk factors, and 25% (29/116) addressed only one of the risk factors reviewed. Strategies targeting the private sector were less frequently encountered than strategies targeting the general public or policy makers.
Conclusions
This review indicates the disconnection between the burden of NCDs and national policy responses in LMICs. Policy makers urgently need to develop comprehensive and multi-stakeholder policies to improve dietary quality and physical activity.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs)—chronic medical conditions including cardiovascular diseases (heart disease and stroke), diabetes, cancer, and chronic respiratory diseases (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma)—are responsible for two-thirds of the world's deaths. Nearly 80% of NCD deaths, close to 30 million per year, occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where they are also rising most rapidly. Diet and lifestyle (including smoking, lack of exercise, and harmful alcohol consumption) influence a person's risk of developing an NCD and of dying from it. Because they can be modified, these risk factors have been at the center of strategies to combat NCDs. In 2004, the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. For diet, it recommended that individuals achieve energy balance and a healthy weight; limit energy intake from total fats and shift fat consumption away from saturated fats to unsaturated fats and towards the elimination of trans-fatty acids; increase consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts; limit the intake of free sugars; and limit salt consumption from all sources and ensure that salt is iodized. For physical activity, it recommended at least 30 minutes of regular, moderate-intensity physical activity on most days throughout a person's life.
Why Was This Study Done?
By signing onto the Global Strategy in 2004, WHO member countries agreed to implement it with high priority. A first step of implementation is usually the development of local policies. Consequently, one of the four objectives of the WHO Global Strategy is “to encourage the development, strengthening and implementation of global, regional, national and community policies and action plans to improve diets and increase physical activity.” Along the same lines, in 2011 the United Nations held a high-level meeting in which the need to accelerate the policy response to the NCD epidemic was emphasized. This study was done to assess the existing national policies on NCD prevention in LMICs. Specifically, the researchers examined how well those policies matched the WHO recommendations for intake of salt, fat, and fruits and vegetables, as well as the recommendations for physical activity.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers searched the Internet (including websites of relevant ministries and departments) for all publicly available national policies related to diet, nutrition, NCDs, and health from all 140 WHO member countries classified as LMICs by the World Bank in 2011. For countries for which the search did not turn up policies, the researchers sent e-mail requests to the relevant national authorities, to the regional WHO offices, and to personal contacts. All documents dated from 1 January 2004 to 1 January 2013 that included national objectives and guidelines for action regarding diet, physical exercise, NCD prevention, or a combination of the three, were analyzed in detail.
Most of the policies obtained were not easy to find and access. For 24 countries, particularly in the Eastern Mediterranean, the researchers eventually gave up, unable to establish whether relevant national policies existed. Of the remaining 116 countries, 29 countries had no relevant policies, and another 30 had policies that failed to mention specifically any of the diet-related risk factors included in the analysis. Fifty-four of the 116 countries had NCD policies that addressed at least one of the risk factors. Thirty-six national policy documents contained strategies to increase fruit and vegetable intake, 20 addressed dietary fat consumption, 23 aimed to limit salt intake, and 35 had specific actions to promote physical activity. Only 14 countries, including Jamaica, the Philippines, Iran, and Mongolia, had policies that addressed all four risk factors. The policies of 27 countries mentioned only one of the four risk factors.
Policies primarily targeted consumers and government agencies and failed to address the roles of the business community or civil society. Consistent with this, most were missing plans, mechanisms, and incentives to drive collaborations between the different stakeholders.
What Do These Findings Mean?
More than eight years after the WHO Global Strategy was agreed upon, only a minority of the LMICs included in this analysis have comprehensive policies in place. Developing policies and making them widely accessible is a likely early step toward specific implementation and actions to prevent NCDs. These results therefore suggest that not enough emphasis is placed on NCD prevention in these countries through actions that have been proven to reduce known risk factors. That said, the more important question is what countries are actually doing to combat NCDs, something not directly addressed by this analysis.
In richer countries, NCDs have for decades been the leading cause of sickness and death, and the fact that public health strategies need to emphasize NCD prevention is now widely recognized. LMICs not only have more limited resources, they also continue to carry a large burden from infectious diseases. It is therefore not surprising that shifting resources towards NCD prevention is a difficult process, even if the human cost of these diseases is massive and increasing. That only about 3% of global health aid is aimed at NCD prevention does not help the situation.
The authors argue that one step toward improving the situation is better sharing of best practices and what works and what doesn't in policy development. They suggest that an open-access repository like one that exists for Europe could improve the situation. They offer to organize, host, and curate such a resource under the auspices of WHO, starting with the policies retrieved for this study, and they invite submission of additional policies and updates.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001465.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Stuckler and Basu
The WHO website on diet and physical activity contains links to various documents, including a diet and physical activity implementation toolbox that contains links to the 2004 Global Strategy document and a Framework to Monitor and Evaluate Implementation
There is a 2011 WHO primer on NCDs entitled Prioritizing a Preventable Epidemic
A recent PLOS Medicine editorial and call for papers addressing the global disparities in the burden from NCDs
A PLOS Blogs post entitled Politics and Global HealthAre We Missing the Obvious? and associated comments discuss the state of the fight against NCDs in early 2013
The NCD Alliance was founded by the Union for International Cancer Control, the International Diabetes Federation, the World Heart Federation, and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease; its mission is to combat the NCD epidemic by putting health at the center of all policies
The WHO European Database on Nutrition, Obesity and Physical Activity (NOPA) contains national and subnational surveillance data, policy documents, actions to implement policy, and examples of good practice in programs and interventions for the WHO European member states
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001465
PMCID: PMC3679005  PMID: 23776415
17.  Dirt Cheap and Without Prescription: How Susceptible are Young US Consumers to Purchasing Drugs From Rogue Internet Pharmacies? 
Background
Websites of many rogue sellers of medications are accessible through links in email spam messages or via web search engines. This study examined how well students enrolled in a U.S. higher education institution could identify clearly unsafe pharmacies.
Objective
The aim is to estimate these health consumers´ vulnerability to fraud by illegitimate Internet pharmacies.
Methods
Two Internet pharmacy websites, created specifically for this study, displayed multiple untrustworthy features modeled after five actual Internet drug sellers which the authors considered to be potentially dangerous to consumers. The websites had none of the safe pharmacy signs and nearly all of the danger signs specified in the Food and Drug Administration´s (FDA´s) guide to consumers. Participants were told that a neighborhood pharmacy charged US$165 for a one-month supply of Beozine, a bogus drug to ensure no pre-existing knowledge. After checking its price at two Internet pharmacies—$37.99 in pharmacy A and $57.60 in pharmacy B—the respondents were asked to indicate if each seller was a good place to buy the drug. Responses came from 1,914 undergraduate students who completed an online eHealth literacy assessment in 2005-2008. Participation rate was 78%.
Results
In response to "On a scale from 0-10, how good is this pharmacy as a place for buying Beozine?" many respondents gave favorable ratings. Specifically, 50% of students who reviewed pharmacy A and 37% of students who reviewed pharmacy B chose a rating above the scale midpoint. When explaining a low drug cost, these raters related it to low operation costs, ad revenue, pressure to lower costs due to comparison shopping, and/or high sales volume. Those who said that pharmacy A or B was "a very bad place" for purchasing the drug (25%), as defined by a score of 1 or less, related low drug cost to lack of regulation, low drug quality, and/or customer information sales. About 16% of students thought that people should be advised to buy cheaper drugs at pharmacies such as these but the majority (62%) suggested that people should be warned against buying drugs from such internet sellers. Over 22% of respondents would recommend pharmacy A to friends and family (10% pharmacy B). One-third of participants supplied online health information to others for decision-making purposes. After controlling for the effects of education, health major, and age, these respondents had significantly worse judgment of Internet pharmacies than those who did not act as information suppliers.
Conclusions
At least a quarter of students, including those in health programs, cannot see multiple signs of danger displayed by rogue Internet pharmacies. Many more are likely to be misled by online sellers that use professional design, veil untrustworthy features, and mimic reputable websites. Online health information consumers would benefit from education initiatives that (1) communicate why it can be dangerous to buy medications online and that (2) develop their information evaluation skills. This study highlights the importance of regulating rogue Internet pharmacies and curbing the danger they pose to consumers.
doi:10.2196/jmir.1520
PMCID: PMC2885783  PMID: 20439253
skill assessment,; health literacy; eHealth; health information skills; Internet pharmacies; counterfeit pharmaceuticals; cyberdrugs; cyberpharmacies
18.  How do consumers search for and appraise health information on the world wide web? Qualitative study using focus groups, usability tests, and in-depth interviews 
BMJ : British Medical Journal  2002;324(7337):573-577.
Objectives
To describe techniques for retrieval and appraisal used by consumers when they search for health information on the internet.
Design
Qualitative study using focus groups, naturalistic observation of consumers searching the world wide web in a usability laboratory, and in-depth interviews.
Participants
A total of 21 users of the internet participated in three focus group sessions. 17 participants were given a series of health questions and observed in a usability laboratory setting while retrieving health information from the web; this was followed by in-depth interviews.
Setting
Heidelberg, Germany.
Results
Although their search technique was often suboptimal, internet users successfully found health information to answer questions in an average of 5 minutes 42 seconds (median 4 minutes 18 seconds) per question. Participants in focus groups said that when assessing the credibility of a website they primarily looked for the source, a professional design, a scientific or official touch, language, and ease of use. However, in the observational study, no participants checked any “about us” sections of websites, disclaimers, or disclosure statements. In the post-search interviews, it emerged that very few participants had noticed and remembered which websites they had retrieved information from.
Conclusions
Further observational studies are needed to design and evaluate educational and technological innovations for guiding consumers to high quality health information on the web.
What is already known on this topicLittle is known about how consumers retrieve and assess the quality of health information on the internetQualitative data are needed to design educational and technological innovations to guide consumers to high quality health informationWhat this study addsUsers of the internet explore only the first few links on general search engines when seeking health informationConsumers say that when assessing the credibility of a site they primarily look for the source, a professional design, and a variety of other criteriaIn practice, internet users do not check the “about us” sections of websites, try to find out who authors or owners of the site are, or read disclaimers or disclosure statementsVery few internet users later remember from which websites they retrieved information or who stood behind the sites
PMCID: PMC78994  PMID: 11884321
19.  An International Comparison of Web-based Reporting About Health Care Quality: Content Analysis 
Background
On more and more websites, consumers are provided with public reports about health care. This move toward provision of more comparative information has resulted in different information types being published that often contain contradictory information.
Objective
The objective was to assess the current state of the art in the presentation of online comparative health care information and to compare how the integration of different information types is dealt with on websites. The content analysis was performed in order to provide website managers and Internet researchers with a resource of knowledge about presentation formats being applied internationally.
Methods
A Web search was used to identify websites that contained comparative health care information. The websites were systematically examined to assess how three different types of information (provider characteristics and services, performance indicators, and health care user experience) were presented to consumers. Furthermore, a short survey was disseminated to the reviewed websites to assess how the presentation formats were selected.
Results
We reviewed 42 websites from the following countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Sweden. We found the most common ways to integrate different information types were the two extreme options: no integration at all (on 36% of the websites) and high levels of integration in single tables on 41% of the websites). Nearly 70% of the websites offered drill down paths to more detailed information. Diverse presentation approaches were used to display comparative health care information on the Internet. Numbers were used on the majority of websites (88%) to display comparative information.
Conclusions
Currently, approaches to the presentation of comparative health care information do not seem to be systematically selected. It seems important, however, that website managers become aware of the complexities inherent in comparative information when they release information on the Web. Important complexities to pay attention to are the use of numbers, the display of contradictory information, and the extent of variation among attributes and attribute levels. As for the integration of different information types, it remains unclear which presentation approaches are preferable. Our study provides a good starting point for Internet research to further address the question of how different types of information can be more effectively presented to consumers.
doi:10.2196/jmir.1191
PMCID: PMC2885782  PMID: 20439252
Consumer health information; information display; decision making; Internet; international comparison; content analysis
20.  Health-related Information on the Web: Results From the HealthStyles Survey, 2002–2003 
Preventing Chronic Disease  2006;3(2):A36.
Introduction
The World Wide Web is being used increasingly as a resource for accessing health-related information. In our study, we identified types of health-related Web sites visited most often, determined how often patients shared Web-accessed health information with their doctors, and examined factors that encouraged Internet use for locating health-related information. We also compared health-related Internet use among people who did not have any type of chronic disease with people who reported having one or more chronic diseases.
Methods
We merged data from the 2002 and 2003 HealthStyles surveys to generate frequency and descriptive statistics and used multivariate logistic regression to estimate odds ratios.
Results
Approximately 35% of survey participants reported using the Internet to search for health-related information. Among them, the Web sites visited most often included health information portals, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations. About 53% reported that they "sometimes" shared Internet information with their doctors. The most important features of the Internet that would encourage its use for health information were ease of finding and using the information and clarity of the information provided. Internet use differed by sex and age and was strongly associated with income and education. Respondents who reported having a chronic disease (odds ratio [OR] = 1.30; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.16–1.45) were more likely to use the Internet to access health-related information, especially among those with depression (OR = 1.47; 95% CI, 1.27–1.71) and high cholesterol (OR = 1.18; 95% CI, 1.02–1.37). In addition, respondents who reported having two or more chronic diseases (OR = 1.35; 95% CI, 1.16–1.56) were more likely to search for online health information than respondents who reported having no chronic disease.
Conclusion
Public health professionals have a unique opportunity to use the Internet as a tool to complement and supplement the health information that the public receives from health care professionals.
PMCID: PMC1563974  PMID: 16539777
21.  Event Rates, Hospital Utilization, and Costs Associated with Major Complications of Diabetes: A Multicountry Comparative Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(2):e1000236.
Philip Clarke and colleagues examined patient-level data for over 11,000 participants with type 2 diabetes from 20 countries and find that major complications of diabetes significantly increased hospital use and costs across settings.
Background
Diabetes imposes a substantial burden globally in terms of premature mortality, morbidity, and health care costs. Estimates of economic outcomes associated with diabetes are essential inputs to policy analyses aimed at prevention and treatment of diabetes. Our objective was to estimate and compare event rates, hospital utilization, and costs associated with major diabetes-related complications in high-, middle-, and low-income countries.
Methods and Findings
Incidence and history of diabetes-related complications, hospital admissions, and length of stay were recorded in 11,140 patients with type 2 diabetes participating in the Action in Diabetes and Vascular Disease (ADVANCE) study (mean age at entry 66 y). The probability of hospital utilization and number of days in hospital for major events associated with coronary disease, cerebrovascular disease, congestive heart failure, peripheral vascular disease, and nephropathy were estimated for three regions (Asia, Eastern Europe, and Established Market Economies) using multiple regression analysis. The resulting estimates of days spent in hospital were multiplied by regional estimates of the costs per hospital bed-day from the World Health Organization to compute annual acute and long-term costs associated with the different types of complications. To assist, comparability, costs are reported in international dollars (Int$), which represent a hypothetical currency that allows for the same quantities of goods or services to be purchased regardless of country, standardized on purchasing power in the United States. A cost calculator accompanying this paper enables the estimation of costs for individual countries and translation of these costs into local currency units. The probability of attending a hospital following an event was highest for heart failure (93%–96% across regions) and lowest for nephropathy (15%–26%). The average numbers of days in hospital given at least one admission were greatest for stroke (17–32 d across region) and heart failure (16–31 d) and lowest for nephropathy (12–23 d). Considering regional differences, probabilities of hospitalization were lowest in Asia and highest in Established Market Economies; on the other hand, lengths of stay were highest in Asia and lowest in Established Market Economies. Overall estimated annual hospital costs for patients with none of the specified events or event histories ranged from Int$76 in Asia to Int$296 in Established Market Economies. All complications included in this analysis led to significant increases in hospital costs; coronary events, cerebrovascular events, and heart failure were the most costly, at more than Int$1,800, Int$3,000, and Int$4,000 in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Established Market Economies, respectively.
Conclusions
Major complications of diabetes significantly increase hospital use and costs across various settings and are likely to impose a high economic burden on health care systems.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Worldwide, nearly 250 million people have diabetes, and this number is increasing rapidly. Diabetes is characterized by dangerous amounts of sugar (glucose) in the blood. Blood sugar levels are normally controlled by insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. Blood sugar control fails in people with diabetes because they make no insulin (type 1 diabetes) or, more commonly, because the fat and muscle cells that usually respond to insulin by removing excess sugar from the blood have become insulin insensitive (type 2 diabetes). Type 2 diabetes can be prevented and controlled by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. It can also be treated with drugs that help the pancreas make more insulin or that increase insulin sensitivity. Major long-term complications of diabetes include kidney failure and an increased risk of cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks, heart failure, stroke, and problems with the blood vessels in the arms and legs. Because of these complications, the life expectancy of people with diabetes is about ten years shorter than that of people without diabetes.
Why Was This Study Done?
Diabetes imposes considerable demands on health care systems but little is known about the direct medical costs associated with treating this chronic disease in low- and middle-income countries where more than three-quarters of affected people live. In particular, although estimates have been made of the overall resources devoted to the treatment of diabetes, very little is known about how the different long-term complications of diabetes contribute to health care costs in different countries. Public-health experts and governments need this information to help them design effective and sustainable policies for the prevention and treatment of diabetes. In this study, the researchers estimate the resource use associated with diabetes-related complications in three economic regions using information collected in the Action in Diabetes and Vascular Disease (ADVANCE) study. This multinational clinical trial is investigating how drugs that control blood pressure and blood sugar levels affect the long-term complications of diabetes.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers recorded diabetes-related complications, hospital admissions for these complications, and length of hospital stays in 11,140 patients with severe diabetes from 20 countries who participated in the ADVANCE study. They used “multiple regression analysis” to estimate the number of days spent in hospital for diabetes-related complications in Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Established Market Economies (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and several Western European countries). Finally, they calculated the economic costs of each complication using regional estimates of the costs per bed-day from the World Health Organization's CHOICE project (CHOosing Interventions that are Cost Effective). Nearly everyone in the study who developed heart failure attended a hospital, but only 15%–26% of people attended a hospital for kidney problems. The chances of hospitalization for any complication were lowest in Asia and highest in the Established Market Economies; conversely, lengths of stay were longest in Asia and shortest in the Established Market Economies. Finally, the estimated annual hospital costs for patients who had a coronary event, stroke, or heart failure were more than Int$1,800, Int$3,000, and Int$4,000 in Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Established Market Economies, respectively (the international dollar, Int$, is a hypothetical currency that has the same purchasing power in all countries), compared to Int$76, Int$156, and Int$296 for patients who experienced none of these events.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Because the ADVANCE trial had strict entry criteria, the findings of this study may not be generalizable to the broader population of people with diabetes. Nevertheless, given the lack of information about the costs associated with diabetes-related complications in low- and middle-income countries, these findings provide important new information about the patterns of hospital resource use and costs in these countries. Specifically, these findings show that the major complications of diabetes greatly increase hospital use and costs in all three economic regions considered and impose a high economic burden on health care systems that is likely to increase as the diabetes epidemic develops. Importantly, these findings should help policy makers anticipate the future health care costs associated with diabetes and should help them evaluate which therapies aimed at preventing diabetes-related complications will reduce these costs most effectively.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000236.
The International Diabetes Federation provides information about all aspects of diabetes
The US National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse provides detailed information about diabetes for patients, health care professionals, and the general public (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service also provides information for patients and caregivers about type 2 diabetes (in several languages)
Information about the ADVANCE study is available
The World Health Organization's CHOICE Web site provides information about the analysis of the cost effectiveness of health care interventions
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000236
PMCID: PMC2826379  PMID: 20186272
22.  Physician Awareness of Drug Cost: A Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(9):e283.
Background
Pharmaceutical costs are the fastest-growing health-care expense in most developed countries. Higher drug costs have been shown to negatively impact patient outcomes. Studies suggest that doctors have a poor understanding of pharmaceutical costs, but the data are variable and there is no consistent pattern in awareness. We designed this systematic review to investigate doctors' knowledge of the relative and absolute costs of medications and to determine the factors that influence awareness.
Methods and Findings
Our search strategy included The Cochrane Library, EconoLit, EMBASE, and MEDLINE as well as reference lists and contact with authors who had published two or more articles on the topic or who had published within 10 y of the commencement of our review. Studies were included if: either doctors, trainees (interns or residents), or medical students were surveyed; there were more than ten survey respondents; cost of pharmaceuticals was estimated; results were expressed quantitatively; there was a clear description of how authors defined “accurate estimates”; and there was a description of how the true cost was determined. Two authors reviewed each article for eligibility and extracted data independently. Cost accuracy outcomes were summarized, but data were not combined in meta-analysis because of extensive heterogeneity. Qualitative data related to physicians and drug costs were also extracted. The final analysis included 24 articles. Cost accuracy was low; 31% of estimates were within 20% or 25% of the true cost, and fewer than 50% were accurate by any definition of cost accuracy. Methodological weaknesses were common, and studies of low methodological quality showed better cost awareness. The most important factor influencing the pattern and accuracy of estimation was the true cost of therapy. High-cost drugs were estimated more accurately than inexpensive ones (74% versus 31%, Chi-square p < 0.001). Doctors consistently overestimated the cost of inexpensive products and underestimated the cost of expensive ones (binomial test, 89/101, p < 0.001). When asked, doctors indicated that they want cost information and feel it would improve their prescribing but that it is not accessible.
Conclusions
Doctors' ignorance of costs, combined with their tendency to underestimate the price of expensive drugs and overestimate the price of inexpensive ones, demonstrate a lack of appreciation of the large difference in cost between inexpensive and expensive drugs. This discrepancy in turn could have profound implications for overall drug expenditures. Much more focus is required in the education of physicians about costs and the access to cost information. Future research should focus on the accessibility and reliability of medical cost information and whether the provision of this information is used by doctors and makes a difference to physician prescribing. Additionally, future work should strive for higher methodological standards to avoid the biases we found in the current literature, including attention to the method of assessing accuracy that allows larger absolute estimation ranges for expensive drugs.
From a review of data from 24 studies, Michael Allan and colleagues conclude that doctors often underestimate the price of expensive drugs and overestimate the price of those that are inexpensive.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Many medicines are extremely expensive, and the cost of buying them is a major (and increasing) proportion of the total cost of health care. Governments and health-care organizations try to find ways of keeping down costs without reducing the effectiveness of the health care they provide, but their efforts to control what is spent on medicines have not been very successful. There are often two or more equally effective drugs available for treating the same condition, and it would obviously help keep costs down if, when a doctor prescribes a medicine, he or she chose the cheapest of the effective drugs available. This choice could result in savings for whoever is paying for the drugs, be it the government, the patient, or a medical insurance organization.
Why Was This Study Done?
Doctors who prescribe drugs cannot be expected to know the exact cost of each drug on the market, but it would he helpful if they had some impression of the cost of a treatment and how the various alternatives compare in price. However, systems deciding how drugs are priced are often very complex. (This is particularly the case in the US.) The researchers wanted to find out how aware doctors are regarding drug costs and the difference between the alternatives. They also wanted to know what factors affected their awareness.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
They decided to do a systematic review of all the research already conducted that addressed this issue so that the evidence from all of them could be considered together. In order to do such a review they had to specify precise requirements for the type of study that they would include and then comprehensively search the medical literature for such studies. They found 24 studies that met their requirements. From these studies, they concluded that doctors were usually not accurate when asked to estimate the cost of drugs; doctors came up with estimates that were within 25% of the true cost less than one-third of the time. In particular doctors tended to underestimate the cost of expensive drugs and overestimate the cost of the cheaper alternatives. A further analysis of the studies showed that many doctors said they would appreciate more accurate information on costs to help them choose which drugs to prescribe but that such information was not readily available.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The researchers concluded that their systematic review demonstrates a lack of appreciation by prescribing doctors of the large difference in cost between inexpensive and expensive drugs, and that this finding has serious implications for overall spending on drugs. They call for more education and information to be provided to doctors on the cost of medicines together with better processes to help doctors in making such decisions.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040283.
A brief guide to systematic reviews has been published by the BMJ (British Medical Journal)
The Web site of the Cochrane Collaboration is a more detailed source of information on systematic reviews; in particular there is a newcomers' guide and information for health-care consumers
The Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, private operating foundation focusing on the major health care issues in the US, has a section on prescription drugs and their costs
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040283
PMCID: PMC1989748  PMID: 17896856
23.  Food Pricing Strategies, Population Diets, and Non-Communicable Disease: A Systematic Review of Simulation Studies 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(12):e1001353.
A systematic review of simulation studies conducted by Helen Eyles and colleagues examines the association between food pricing strategies and food consumption and health and disease outcomes.
Background
Food pricing strategies have been proposed to encourage healthy eating habits, which may in turn help stem global increases in non-communicable diseases. This systematic review of simulation studies investigates the estimated association between food pricing strategies and changes in food purchases or intakes (consumption) (objective 1); Health and disease outcomes (objective 2), and whether there are any differences in these outcomes by socio-economic group (objective 3).
Methods and Findings
Electronic databases, Internet search engines, and bibliographies of included studies were searched for articles published in English between 1 January 1990 and 24 October 2011 for countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Where ≥3 studies examined the same pricing strategy and consumption (purchases or intake) or health outcome, results were pooled, and a mean own-price elasticity (own-PE) estimated (the own-PE represents the change in demand with a 1% change in price of that good). Objective 1: pooled estimates were possible for the following: (1) taxes on carbonated soft drinks: own-PE (n = 4 studies), −0.93 (range, −0.06, −2.43), and a modelled −0.02% (−0.01%, −0.04%) reduction in energy (calorie) intake for each 1% price increase (n = 3 studies); (2) taxes on saturated fat: −0.02% (−0.01%, −0.04%) reduction in energy intake from saturated fat per 1% price increase (n = 5 studies); and (3) subsidies on fruits and vegetables: own-PE (n = 3 studies), −0.35 (−0.21, −0.77). Objectives 2 and 3: variability of food pricing strategies and outcomes prevented pooled analyses, although higher quality studies suggested unintended compensatory purchasing that could result in overall effects being counter to health. Eleven of 14 studies evaluating lower socio-economic groups estimated that food pricing strategies would be associated with pro-health outcomes. Food pricing strategies also have the potential to reduce disparities.
Conclusions
Based on modelling studies, taxes on carbonated drinks and saturated fat and subsidies on fruits and vegetables would be associated with beneficial dietary change, with the potential for improved health. Additional research into possible compensatory purchasing and population health outcomes is needed.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
For the first time in human history, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are killing more people than infectious diseases. Every year, more than 35 million people die from NCDs—nearly two-thirds of the world's annual deaths. More than 80% of these deaths are in developing countries, where a third of NCD-related deaths occur in people younger than 60 years old. And NCDs are not just a growing global public health emergency. They are also financially costly because they reduce productivity and increase calls on health care systems worldwide. Cardiovascular diseases (conditions that affect the heart and circulation such as heart attacks and stroke), cancers, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases (long-term diseases that affect the lungs and airways) are responsible for most NCD-related illnesses and death. The main behavioral risk factors for all these diseases are tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, physical inactivity, and unhealthy diets (diets that have a low fruit and vegetable intake and high saturated fat and salt intakes).
Why Was This Study Done?
Improvements in population diets and reductions in salt intake are crucial for the control and prevention of NCDs, but how can these behavioral changes be encouraged? One potential but poorly studied strategy is food pricing—the introduction of taxes on unhealthy foods (for example, foods containing high levels of saturated fat) and subsidies on healthy foods (for example, foods high in fiber). However, although a tax on soft drinks, for example, might decrease purchases of these high-sugar drinks, it might also increase purchases of fruit juices, which contain just as much sugar and energy as soft drinks (“compensatory purchasing”), and thus undermine the intended health impact of the tax. Because randomized controlled trials of the effects of food pricing strategies are difficult to undertake, many researchers have turned to mathematical models (sets of equations that quantify relationships between interventions and outcomes) to provide the evidence needed to inform policy decisions on food taxes and subsidies. In this systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic), Helen Eyles and colleagues investigate the association between food pricing strategies and food consumption and NCDs by analyzing the results of published mathematical modeling studies of food pricing interventions.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 32 studies that met their predefined inclusion criteria, which included publication by researchers in a member country of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (a group of largely developed countries that promotes global development). Most of the studies were of low to moderate quality and provided uncertain and varying estimates of the impact of pricing on food consumption. Where three or more studies examined the same pricing strategy and consumption or health outcome, the researchers calculated the average change in demand for a food in response to changes in its price (“own-price elasticity”). For taxes on carbonated soft drinks, the average own-price elasticity was −0.93; that is, the models predicted that a 1% increase in the price of soft drinks would decrease consumption by 0.93%. The modeled reduction in the proportion of energy intake from saturated fat resulting from a 1% increase in the price of saturated fats was 0.02%. Finally, although the researchers' analysis suggested that for each 1% reduction in the price of fruits and vegetables, consumption would increase by 0.35%, they also found evidence that such a subsidy might result in compensatory purchasing, such as a reduction in fish purchases.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that pricing strategies have the potential to produce improvements in population diets, at least in developed countries, but also highlight the need for more research in this area. Notably, the researchers found insufficient data to allow them to quantify the effects of pricing strategies on health or to analyze whether the effect of pricing strategies is likely vary between socio-economic groups. Given their findings, the researchers suggest that future modeling studies should include better assessments of the unintended effects of compensatory purchasing and should examine the potential impact of food pricing strategies on long-term health and NCD-related deaths. Finally, they suggest that robust evaluations should be built into the implementation of food pricing policies to answer some of the outstanding questions about this potential strategy for reducing the global burden of NCDs.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001353.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on all aspects of healthy living, on chronic diseases and health promotion, and on non-communicable diseases around the world
The Global Noncommunicable Disease Network (NCDnet) aims to help low- and middle-income countries reduce NCD-related illnesses and death through implementation of the 2008-2013 Action Plan for the Global Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases (also available in French); NCDnet's Face to face with chronic disease webpage is a selection of personal stories from around the world about dealing with NCDs
The American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society provide information on many important risk factors for non-communicable diseases and include some personal stories about keeping healthy
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001353
PMCID: PMC3519906  PMID: 23239943
24.  The Effect of Alternative Graphical Displays Used to Present the Benefits of Antibiotics for Sore Throat on Decisions about Whether to Seek Treatment: A Randomized Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(8):e1000140.
In a randomized trial, Cheryl Carling and colleagues evaluate how people respond to different statistical presentations regarding the consequences of taking antibiotic treatment for sore throat.
Background
We conducted an Internet-based randomized trial comparing four graphical displays of the benefits of antibiotics for people with sore throat who must decide whether to go to the doctor to seek treatment. Our objective was to determine which display resulted in choices most consistent with participants' values.
Methods and Findings
This was the first of a series of televised trials undertaken in cooperation with the Norwegian Broadcasting Company. We recruited adult volunteers in Norway through a nationally televised weekly health program. Participants went to our Web site and rated the relative importance of the consequences of treatment using visual analogue scales (VAS). They viewed the graphical display (or no information) to which they were randomized and were asked to decide whether to go to the doctor for an antibiotic prescription. We compared four presentations: face icons (happy/sad) or a bar graph showing the proportion of people with symptoms on day three with and without treatment, a bar graph of the average duration of symptoms, and a bar graph of proportion with symptoms on both days three and seven. Before completing the study, all participants were shown all the displays and detailed patient information about the treatment of sore throat and were asked to decide again. We calculated a relative importance score (RIS) by subtracting the VAS scores for the undesirable consequences of antibiotics from the VAS score for the benefit of symptom relief. We used logistic regression to determine the association between participants' RIS and their choice. 1,760 participants completed the study. There were statistically significant differences in the likelihood of choosing to go to the doctor in relation to different values (RIS). Of the four presentations, the bar graph of duration of symptoms resulted in decisions that were most consistent with the more fully informed second decision. Most participants also preferred this presentation (38%) and found it easiest to understand (37%). Participants shown the other three presentations were more likely to decide to go to the doctor based on their first decision than everyone based on the second decision. Participants preferred the graph using faces the least (14.4%).
Conclusions
For decisions about going to the doctor to get antibiotics for sore throat, treatment effects presented by a bar graph showing the duration of symptoms helped people make decisions more consistent with their values than treatment effects presented as graphical displays of proportions of people with sore throat following treatment.
Clinical Trials Registration
ISRCTN58507086
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
In the past, patients usually believed that their doctor knew what was best for them and that they had little say in deciding what treatment they would receive. But many modern interventions have complex trade-offs. Patients' opinions about the relative desirability of the possible outcomes of health care interventions depend on their lifestyle and expectations, and these “values” need to be considered when making decisions about medical treatments. Consequently, shared decision-making is increasingly superseding the traditional, paternalistic approach to medical decision-making. In shared decision-making, health care professionals talk to their patients about the risks and benefits of the various treatment options, and patients tell the health care professionals what they expect and/or require from their treatment.
Why Was This Study Done?
Shared decision-making can only succeed if patients know about the treatment options that are available for their medical condition and understand the consequences of each option. But how does the presentation of information about treatment options to patients affect their decisions? In 2002, a series of internet-based randomized trials (studies in which participants are randomly allocated to different “treatment” groups) called the Health Information Project: Presentation Online (HIPPO) was initiated to answer this question. Here, the researchers describe HIPPO 3, a trial that investigates how alternative graphical displays of the benefits of antibiotics for the treatment of sore throat affect whether people decide to seek treatment. In particular, the researchers ask which display results in people making a treatment decision most consistent with their values, i.e., in terms of the relative importance to them of the treatment's desirable and undesirable outcomes.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Adult Norwegians recruited through a television health program numerically rated the importance of symptom relief and of several negative consequences (for example, side effects) of antibiotic treatment for sore throat on the trial's Web site. Relative importance scores (which indicate the participants' values) were calculated for each participant by subtracting their ratings for the importance of the negative consequences of seeking antibiotic treatment from his or her rating for the importance of symptom relief. The participants were then asked to decide whether to visit a doctor for antibiotics without receiving any further information or after being shown one of four graphical displays illustrating the benefits of antibiotic treatment. Two bar charts and one display of happy- and sad-face icons showed the proportion of people with symptoms at specific times after sore throat onset with and without treatment. A third bar chart indicated symptom duration with and without antibiotics. Finally, all the participants were shown all the displays and other information about sore throat and were asked to decide again about seeking treatment. The researchers found a clear association between the participants' values and the likelihood of their deciding to go to the doctor, and this likelihood depended on which graphical display the participants saw. People shown information on the proportion of patients with symptoms were more likely to decide to visit a doctor than those shown information on symptom duration. Furthermore, first decisions reached after being given information on symptom duration or no information were more consistent with the fully informed second decision than first decisions reached after seeing the other displays.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that, for people considering whether to seek antibiotic treatment for sore throat, a bar graph showing the duration of symptoms is more likely to help them make a decision that is consistent with their own values than a bar chart showing the proportions of people with sore throat following treatment. The researchers also found that the bar chart showing symptom duration was preferred by more of the participants than any of the other representations. Whether these results can be applied to other health care decisions or in other settings is not known. However, the researchers suggest that these findings may be most relevant to treatments that, like antibiotic treatment of sore throat, have a short-lived benefit and relatively important downsides.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000140.
A PLoS Medicine Editorial discusses this trial and the results of another HIPPO trial that are presented in a separate PLoS Medicine Research Article by Carling et al.; details of a pilot HIPPO trial are also available
The Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making (a US-based nonprofit organization) provides information on many aspects of medical decision making
The Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center provides information to help people make health care decisions through its Center for Shared Decision Making
The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute provides information on patient decision aids, including an inventory of decision aids available on the Web (in English and French)
MedlinePlus provides links to information and advice about sore throat (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000140
PMCID: PMC2726763  PMID: 19707579
25.  Professional Uncertainty and Disempowerment Responding to Ethnic Diversity in Health Care: A Qualitative Study 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(11):e323.
Background
While ethnic disparities in health and health care are increasing, evidence on how to enhance quality of care and reduce inequalities remains limited. Despite growth in the scope and application of guidelines on “cultural competence,” remarkably little is known about how practising health professionals experience and perceive their work with patients from diverse ethnic communities. Using cancer care as a clinical context, we aimed to explore this with a range of health professionals to inform interventions to enhance quality of care.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a qualitative study involving 18 focus groups with a purposeful sample of 106 health professionals of differing disciplines, in primary and secondary care settings, working with patient populations of varying ethnic diversity in the Midlands of the UK. Data were analysed by constant comparison and we undertook processes for validation of analysis. We found that, as they sought to offer appropriate care, health professionals wrestled with considerable uncertainty and apprehension in responding to the needs of patients of ethnicities different from their own. They emphasised their perceived ignorance about cultural difference and were anxious about being culturally inappropriate, causing affront, or appearing discriminatory or racist. Professionals' ability to think and act flexibly or creatively faltered. Although trying to do their best, professionals' uncertainty was disempowering, creating a disabling hesitancy and inertia in their practice. Most professionals sought and applied a knowledge-based cultural expertise approach to patients, though some identified the risk of engendering stereotypical expectations of patients. Professionals' uncertainty and disempowerment had the potential to perpetuate each other, to the detriment of patient care.
Conclusions
This study suggests potential mechanisms by which health professionals may inadvertently contribute to ethnic disparities in health care. It identifies critical opportunities to empower health professionals to respond more effectively. Interventions should help professionals acknowledge their uncertainty and its potential to create inertia in their practice. A shift away from a cultural expertise model toward a greater focus on each patient as an individual may help.
From a qualitative study, Joe Kai and colleagues have identified opportunities to empower health professionals to respond more effectively to challenges in their work with patients from diverse ethnic communities.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Communities are increasingly diverse in terms of ethnicity (belonging to a group of people defined by social characteristics such as cultural tradition or national origin) and race (belonging to a group identified by inherited physical characteristics). Although health professionals and governments are striving to ensure that everybody has the same access to health care, there is increasing evidence of ethnic inequalities in health-care outcomes. Some of these inequalities reflect intrinsic differences between groups of people—Ashkenazi Jews, for example, often carry an altered gene that increases their chance of developing aggressive breast cancer. Often, however, these differences reflect inequalities in the health care received by different ethnic groups. To improve this situation, “cultural competence” has been promoted over recent years. Cultural competence is the development of skills by individuals and organizations that allow them to work effectively with people from different cultures. Health professionals are now taught about ethnic differences in health beliefs and practices, religion, and communication styles to help them provide the best service to all their patients.
Why Was This Study Done?
Numerous guidelines aim to improve cultural competency but little is known about how health professionals experience and perceive their work with patients from diverse ethnic groups. Is their behavior influenced by ethnicity in ways that might contribute to health care disparities? For example, do doctors sometimes avoid medical examinations for fear of causing offence because of cultural differences? If more were known about how health professionals handle ethnic diversity (a term used here to include both ethnicity and race) it might be possible to reduce ethnic inequalities in health care. In this qualitative study, the researchers have explored how health professionals involved in cancer care are affected by working with ethnically diverse patients. A qualitative study is one that collects nonquantitative data such as how doctors “feel” about treating people of different ethnic backgrounds; a quantitative study might compare clinical outcomes in different ethnic groups.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers enrolled 106 doctors, nurses, and other health-related professionals from different health-service settings in the Midlands, an ethnically diverse region of the UK. They organized 18 focus groups in which the health professionals described their experiences of caring for people from ethnic minority backgrounds. The participants were encouraged to recall actual cases and to identify what they saw as problems and strengths in their interactions with these patients. The researchers found that the health professionals wrestled with many challenges when providing health care for patients from diverse ethnic backgrounds. These challenges included problems with language and with general communication (for example, deciding when it was acceptable to touch a patient to show empathy). Health professionals also worried they did not know enough about cultural differences. As a result, they said they often felt uncertain of their ability to avoid causing affront or appearing racist. This uncertainty, the researchers report, disempowered the health professionals, sometimes making them hesitate or fail to do what was best for their patient.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings reveal that health professionals often experience considerable uncertainty when caring for ethnically diverse patients, even after training in cultural competency. They also show that this uncertainty can lead to hesitancy and inertia, which might contribute to ethnic health care inequalities. Because the study participants were probably already interested in ethnic diversity and health care, interviews with other health professionals (and investigations of patient experiences) are needed to confirm these findings. Nevertheless, the researchers suggest several interventions that might reduce health care inequalities caused by ethnic diversity. For example, health professionals should be encouraged to recognize their uncertainty and should have access to more information and training about ethnic differences. In addition, there should be a shift in emphasis away from relying on knowledge-based cultural information towards taking an “ethnographic” approach. In other words, health professionals should be helped to feel able to ask their patients about what matters most to them as individuals about their illness and treatment.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040323.
Information on cultural competence and health care is available from the US National Center for Cultural Competence (in English and Spanish) and DiversityRx
PROCEED (Professionals Responding to Cancer in Ethnic Diversity) is a multimedia training tool for educators within the health and allied professions developed from the results of this study; a press release on PROCEED is available from the University of Nottingham
Transcultural Health Care Practice: An educational resource for nurses and health care practitioners is available on the web site of the UK Royal College of Nursing
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040323
PMCID: PMC2071935  PMID: 18001148

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