Researchers believe that patients that self-diagnose to a certain extent, and utilise websites in order to check and self-manage respiratory tract infections (RTIs), are less likely to need GP attention.
A team of researchers, who studied the effects of using Internet-based information in patients aged 18 or older who had RTIs, found that there was a significant difference between those who used websites and those who did not.
It was concluded that those who accessed the Internet ahead of GP visits were 30% less likely to need the attention of doctors.
Presenting patients with NHS Direct details on the website also led more website users to contact the service, compared to non-users.
This is an interesting phenomena that gives a real insight into the power of information, and suggests that many GP visits could ultimately be prevented.
While RTIs are unquestionably debilitating conditions, avoiding clogging up the NHS system with needless visits is obviously an extremely valuable prospect for an already over-burdened health service.
However, while this notion is an interesting one, and something that could benefit the treatment of RTI in the future, the phenomenon was not entirely one-sided.
People who accessed and took guidance from the website also experienced slightly longer illness duration.
However, researchers concluded that this did not deviate massively between groups, and ultimately attributed this to patients being recommended to utilise ibuprofens in order to treat their specific condition.
Despite this, there was no significant increase in hospital admissions in the website users, compared to non-users.
This does suggest that providing information to RTI sufferers ahead of doctors’ visits can ultimately effectively had off the need for attention at the pass.
Patients involved in the study visited a website on a four-weekly basis, and subsequently completed a series of questions about the symptoms and medical history, with individual advice tailored to their particular needs to be offered depending on the answers given.
Researchers involved in the study hailed from the University of Southampton, and the scientist believes that this could have a significant impact on NHS clogging.
The authors of the research believe that their findings support using internet-based interventions to reduce GP visits, and that this could be an effective way to more efficiently utilise the NHS services in a very demanding climate.
Professor Paul Little, lead author and a GP in Southampton, offered his belief in the paper that Internet-delivered interventions can have a very positive impact.
“An internet-delivered intervention for managing RTIs helps participants appropriately manage their symptoms and contacts with NHS staff. The estimated 25% reduction in GP consultations, even if only over a period of a few months, would provide very considerable relief in terms of pressure on services during the winter months. The study was published in the journal the BMJ Open, And is widely available for viewing and reading online.”