Internet Can Aid People With Chronic Illness

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Chronic Illness and Internet

Using the Internet to find and apply health information can help individuals with chronic diseases change their behavior and improve their conditions, a systematic review of studies shows.

The findings about interactive health communications applications (IHCAs) are based on 24 randomized controlled trials and are re-issued in the current edition of the Cochrane Library after the original article a year ago was found to contain erroneous data.

The Cochrane Library is an international organization that evaluates medical research. Systematic reviews draw evidence-based conclusions about medical practice after considering both the content and quality of existing medical trials on a topic.

"Our review suggests that IHCAs have significant positive effects on knowledge, social support and behavioral and clinical outcomes and are more likely than not to have significant positive effects on self-efficacy," or people's belief in their ability to change, says Dr. Elizabeth Murray of the University College Medical School in London.

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Although the use of IHCAs can help in certain facets of chronic disease, she and her coauthors caution that the studies under review were done mostly in countries with well-developed health care systems and may not apply globally. As a result, while the use of these applications should be encouraged, they should not be used as a method of controlling health care costs, the authors say.

An IHCA is a computer-based information source combined with one or more additional services, such an online support group, chat room or tailored advice based on data provided by the user.

The reviewers measured seven aspects of chronic disease among the 3,739 participants in the studies.

They found that computer-based information improved users' knowledge, social support, health behaviors and clinical outcomes. There was less evidence for improving a user's belief in his or her capacity to change, although the date suggested a small benefit. There was not strong enough evidence to determine whether IHCAs improved emotional or economic circumstances.

"The overwhelming majority of the published literature in this field refers to potential benefits of IHCAs," the authors conclude. Among the likely benefits are helping people make informed decisions, promoting healthy behaviors and promoting self-care. While no potential harms exist, the review cautions that relying on Internet services may disadvantage those without computers and may spread false information.

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