Virtually Informed. The Internet as (New) Health Information Source

25.01.2008 - 26.01.2008

Final Conference of the FWF-funded Project “Virtually Informed: The Internet in the Medical Field”

Key Speakers: Samantha Adams, Flis Henwood, Sarah Nettleton, Sally Wyatt

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The increasing availability and use of the Internet as a new information and communication source in the medical context has become a central issue in both academic and policy debates. Notions like the “informed” or “empowered” patient express the central role of medical information for living “the right way”, the high expectation that the Internet would support patients to take more responsibility for their own health as well as the hope for quite fundamental re-orderings in doctor-patient relations.

This rather optimistic vision of the empowering potential of the Internet is however challenged in multiple ways. Policy makers as well as parts of the medical establishment regularly question the quality of the information provided, doubt people’s capacity to properly evaluate the “flood of information” and propose quality criteria to direct the user to “reliable” health information. Doctors sometimes appear to be frightened of losing their “knowledge monopoly”, thus creating difficulties for patients to express their own positions. Finally there are hints that patients themselves may prefer to take on the “passive patient role”.

This conference aims to explore these issues from various perspectives in order to obtain a more fine-grained understanding of the phenomenon. While much research on particular aspects of online health information and its implications has been done already, an integrated and comparative approach is still lacking. We thus would like to draw together and relate issues of patients’ possibilities for and limits to acquiring online health information, potential re-ordering of hierarchical doctor-patient relations, and policy imaginations of the role of the Internet in the medical field as well as actual policy interventions. Furthermore, we want to discuss how far criteria such as gender, education, age, the degree of affectedness and Internet skills influence and shape these developments.


Institut für Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung

University of Vienna, Universitätscampus altes AKH, Aula, Spitalgasse 2, A-1090 Vienna