1.1 Advantages and disadvantages
The internet provides a wealth of health and care related information. The majority of health and care organisations now have an online presence, providing information such as their staff, missions, values and services. Websites such as NHS Choices and patient info provide a range of information about signs, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of conditions. In addition, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has a variety of knowledge sheets and provides guidance on the recommended diagnosis, treatment and care for lots of different conditions such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease. NICE guidance in particular is good quality evidence to use in your academic work.
Other websites can be run by charitable organisations that provide information for service users, sources of advice and support. Many have discussion forums and/or social media pages where people can talk with others in the same or similar circumstances, e.g. AgeUK, the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK. Pharmacies, GP consultations and private care services are also often available online.
Activity 2 What are the advantages and disadvantages of the internet?
Using the drop down choices below, identify whether you think each of the following statements is an advantage or disadvantage of the internet for health and care, or both.
You might have come to different conclusions about whether each of these was an advantage or disadvantage. There are no right or wrong answers. Here are some example answers.
Fast and efficient communication – Advantage
The internet makes it easy to correspond with people in any geographic location and this is often viewed as an advantage. Professionals are able to network easily with others across the world.
Information can be lost easily – Disadvantage
Hackers, computer viruses and problems with hardware can often cause information to be lost or stolen very easily. Information lost this way is often irretrievable.
The internet is global – Both
The ability to network with people from around the world is a wonderful opportunity, especially if you have friends or relatives living overseas. However, health and care information, recommended guidance, services and policies vary greatly from country to country and might not be relevant or accurate for your particular location.
Privacy and security, spam and viruses – Disadvantage
The risk to privacy, the security of information and risk of computer viruses wiping or stealing information from your computer is frequently of concern for many. It is not always possible to know what data you are sharing or leaving behind every time you use the internet. Emails can easily be lost or sent to the wrong person.
Information can be shared easily – Both
Electronic health records are a great opportunity for professionals and organisations to share information about care and optimise care delivery. However, sometimes information is shared too freely and it is not always possible to know that you are sharing the right information with the right person at the right time.
Social networking: access to advice and other people in similar circumstances – Both
Social networks and access to online discussion forums can be a valuable source of support. This means that service users can obtain information from others in similar circumstances or ask questions and get responses very quickly. However, it is not always possible to confirm whether the person you are speaking with is who they say they are, or if they are providing the correct advice and information. There are also risks associated with sharing personal information in these platforms.
Finding information about professionals and organisations who provide care – Advantage
You can now find lots of information about NHS trusts, care homes and organisations who provide care. This helps you to understand what services they provide. For example, staff profiles let you see what qualifications and experience the professionals who care for you have. Online public reviews of these organisations also means you can provide and see others’ feedback about their performance.
Finding information about health, signs, symptoms and diagnosis – Both
Information about health and what to expect from treatments are very useful. It can also help you to make decisions about what service you need and in what circumstance, e.g. whether to go to your GP or urgent care centre. However, not all websites are created equally and the information available online is not always credible or accurate; it might be that it is only relevant to certain geographic locations too. Service users can also be deterred from seeking help when they actually need to and vice versa.