Online Research Helps Patients Find New Treatments
> 2/25/2009 3:38:56 PM

Patients who research their healthcare options online are more likely to ask for, and receive, the latest specialized treatments for their conditions. This obsession with data has a conceivable downside in creating a class of patients who think they know treatment better than the responsible professionals and ask for inappropriate treatments that they've heard about through PR and blog vagaries, but we've yet to see such negative side effects on any considerable scale. We hold to the maxim that the better-informed customer is usually more satisfied. 

The study in question, performed by doctors at the University of Pennsylvania and Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, dealt only with colorectal cancer patients, but the trend easily applies across the healthcare treatment spectrum. Researchers note that patients, as a whole, have grown more active in researching their own treatments over the last few decades. Of course the internet, now filled with compendium of intelligent, informative news sources (like, has facilitated an exponential rise in patients seeking independent medical data. This is, for the most part, an encouraging development.

Their study surveyed 633 randomly chosen colorectal cancer patients, measuring their desire to independently seek medical info and the rates at which they received two specific targeted therapy drugs that have received considerable media attention following their recent FDA approval. They noted that more than 4 in 10 cancer patients seek information on the internet but cannot yet develop a statistical model to determine what, if any, effect this trend ultimately has on the effectiveness of a treatment plan.

The fact that "patients who sought information about treatments for colorectal cancer were 2.83 times more likely to have heard about targeted therapies and 3.22 times more likely to have received targeted therapies" speaks for itself regardless of the ultimate effectiveness of these targeted therapies. Perhaps the most important aspect of this trend is the power that these increasing resources grant to patients. The collective responsibility of the healthcare media sphere is to work on streamlining that data and delivering it in as convenient a manner as possible. In the meantime we can only encourage patients to continue this search. It can improve their states of mind if nothing else.

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