As government policy encourages caring for people in the community, and in many cases in their own homes, patients are being encouraged to learn about their conditions and become experts in their own care.
In order to do this they need to be able to access accurate and timely information. One of the most easily accessible ways to do this is via the internet. Wikipedia is one of the most visited sites for health information, by patients as well as trainee and practising health professionals, researchers in the US have said. Yet, nine out of 10 health-related articles on Wikipedia contain errors, their research has shown.
This is in many ways not suprising, since the website is open-access, meaning that its articles can be edited by anyone, although volunteer health editors monitor the accuracy of the pages. What this highlights is that self-care or diagnosis cannot be seen as a substitute for targeted advice from health professionals. In fact, one of the researchers responsible for the Wikipedia revelation said that a patient's first port of call for information should be a health professional.
As the pressure on general practice becomes unmanageable, patients are not able to access appointments as quickly as necessary and may resort to advice on the internet. Many practice and community nurses are set to retire in the next 10 years, so a way of replacing the shortfall in the workforce needs to be implemented quickly to prevent primary care services buckling under demand.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul of the BMA recently pointed out: ‘We don't have the premises, the nurses or the staff to provide the services we want to'. Practice and community nurses are vital points of contact for patients, enabling them to access the advice and healthcare they need before resorting to a less reliable source.