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Jan Geissler from CML Advocates Network, Germany, explains what the Internet means to oncologists and patients


The Internet has largely transformed the way how both healthcare professionals and patients gain access to cancer information. Many oncologists’ daily practice includes accessing up to date publications online, collaborating with co-researchers via e-mail, or sharing patient cases with colleagues in distant places. At the same time, more than half of today’s cancer patients are using search engines such as Google as well as various online communities to find information about their cancer and its treatment, and learn from the experience of other patients, etc. Even less technology-savvy patients are increasingly provided with information by younger relatives or friends. Unfortunately, regulators and politicians are still living the myth that health information can be contained in a well-controlled ‘walled garden’, making the provision of quality information on the web quite problematic.

Meanwhile, new avenues and tools for doctors and patients are evolving at a dizzying pace through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media platforms. Information about clinical trials, new treatments and quality of care is spreading quickly. This creates new challenges in terms of doctor-patient communication as well as upholding quality principles for web-based information. The viral nature of new Internet services can be a blessing or blight: both health professionals and patients want high-quality, well-edited and referenced content, but unfortunately, unwanted information also tends to spread just as quickly.

The Internet has already moved healthcare from a position of control towards a new model of dialogue: internet education and speed. Independent of what regulators and societies would like to see, the use of search engines such as Google and social media as a means of finding information on cancer is here to stay. For that reason, it is no longer a question of whether professional care and patient advocacy needs to change, but how. Both oncologists and patient advocacy groups need to understand what the Internet age means to the care they provide.