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Abstract

Background  As the use of the Internet increases, it is important to gain insight into how it is used by patients to obtain health-related information.

Objectives  We aimed to explore the attitudes and practices of dermatology outpatients regarding their use of the Internet to find health information. We also aimed to investigate the consequences of this Internet use on the patient–doctor relationship.

Methods  A self-administered questionnaire on Internet use was given to adult dermatology outpatients attending the Dermatology Department at King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, from January to June 2008.

Results  A total of 86% (432/500) of distributed questionnaires were returned. The mean age of respondents was 29.7 ± 10.0 years. Of the respondents who answered the relevant items, 42% (185/431) were females, 87% (376/432) were Internet users, and 47% (190/404) stated that they had accessed the Internet to obtain general medical information. Younger women educated to college level and with higher incomes tended to search for online health-related information more often than other groups. More than 93% (343/367) of respondents reported that they relied on their doctors as their primary source of information, but 69% (277/401) indicated that online medical information was beneficial, and almost 8% (30/399) stated that they would always trust data obtained from the Internet.

Conclusions  A significant proportion of patients use the Internet to search for medical information. This has a positive effect on the patients’ skin diseases and on their relationships with their doctors. Therefore, doctors should be more aware of the health-related information available online and should guide patients to reliable websites.