Interactive websites can help manage chronic diseases

October 18, 2005

Interactive health websites can help people live with their chronic illness, according to a UCL (University College London) review of studies on internet health.

Contrary to the UCL group's original findings, the review - published by the Cochrane Library and revised after being found to contain errors - shows that people who use interactive health programs and websites generally have a better health outcome than non-users.

The UCL paper reviewed studies on how computer programs known as Interactive Health Communication Applications (IHCAs) affect people with chronic disease. IHCAs are computer-based information sources combined with one or more additional services, such as an on-line support group, chat room or tailored advice based on data provided by the user.

UCL researchers found that IHCAs appeared to have largely positive effects on users, in that users tend to be better informed and feel more socially-supported. IHCAs also appeared to improve behavioural and clinical outcomes as well as improve a user's self-efficacy - that is, a person's belief in their ability to carry out potentially-beneficial actions.

Dr Elizabeth Murray, of the UCL Department of Primary Care & Population Sciences, says: "People with chronic disease often want more information about their illness and the various treatment options available. They may also seek advice and support to help them make behaviour changes necessary to manage and live with the disease, such as changes in diet or exercise. Computer-based programs which combine health information with, for example, online peer support may be one way of meeting these needs and of helping people to achieve better health.

"However, our results should be treated with some caution, given that there is a need for more large scale studies to confirm these preliminary findings, to determine the best type and way to deliver IHCAs, and to establish how IHCAs work for different groups of people with chronic illness."
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University College London

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