The impact of the internet on the practice of general practitioners and community pharmacists in Northern Ireland

Brian McCaw, Kieran McGlade, James McElnay


Objective The objective of this study was to gain an insight into the use of the internet for practice-related purposes by community pharmacists and general practitioners (GPs) in Northern Ireland, and to gather information about their experiences relating to patients and the internet.
Method A postal questionnaire survey of all community pharmacies (n=522) and all GPs practising in Northern Ireland (n=1081).
Results A total of 542 completed questionnaires were returned, giving an overall response rate of 34%. The majority of respondents had access to the internet in their workplace, and approximately 60% of respondents in each profession accessed health-related websites on up to five occasions per week. Of those who did not access health-related websites, lack of time was the main reason cited. The most popular sites for both professions were online journals. Significant differences were found in the activities undertaken by the two professions whilst online. Significantly more GPs than community pharmacists reported searching for disease-related (non-drug) information, using web-based disease management tools or reading online journal articles. Few respondents reported recommending websites to patients, although significantly more GPs than pharmacists did so. Significantly more pharmacists had been approached or felt challenged by patients who had downloaded information from the internet. GPs were more likely to communicate with colleagues about patients by email but neither profession reported frequent correspondence with patients by email.
Conclusions Both professions used the internet regularly as a source of health-related information and both had to deal with 'internet-informed', (or sometimes misinformed) patients. Community pharmacists were more likely to feel challenged by these patients and GPs sometimes had to deal with unnecessarily worried patients or patients with unrealistic expectations. Both professions will have to change working practices to accommodate the impact of the internet. This will have significant future training implications.


community pharmacists; general practitioners; internet

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