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Patients with COPD Prioritize Symptom Control Information Online

Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) still rely on their healthcare providers as the source of primary information about their disease, but about a third of these folks still bring information from the internet and the famous “Dr. Google” to appointments with them to discuss and prioritize information about symptom control, a recent online survey reported.

The research, conducted to understand how patients with COPD perceive web-based health information, was designed to determine behaviors of patients with COPD in use of the internet to learn about their disease; assess their perspectives regarding two educational websites (from the American Lung Association [ALA] and the COPD Foundation); and to see whether patient characteristics, such as older age, severity of breathlessness on the modified Medical Research Council (mMRC), and number of exacerbations in the past year, affected internet health behaviors and assessment of COPD educational websites.

Results from the online survey, completed by 445 respondents, found that physicians were the primary source of information, followed by COPD internet searches; COPD health searches focused on two areas -- specific information about COPD and treatments; patients prioritized disease information in order of “symptom control,” “how COPD affects my body,” and “treatments that might work for me”; attributes of the ALA website were rated mostly higher than the COPD Foundation website.

Ninety-five percent of the respondents said that they rely heavily on their physician as their primary source of information about COPD, but the authors noted that available time for discussions in the office may be limited. Similar to a 2013 Pew Research Center report that found that 72 percent of adult internet users in the United States sought online health information within the past year, 76 percent of these respondents indicated that they performed internet searches about COPD.

Patients rated content of both websites as “good” with mean overall ratings of approximately seven out of 10. Meaning that there is opportunity to improve online materials to achieve higher patients’ ratings. Assessments of specific features indicate that respondents provided higher ratings for all five impression attributes and for eight of nine content attributes on the ALA website compared with the COPD Foundation website. The identities of the websites were hidden during the survey.

Researchers hope that with improved knowledge about a chronic condition like COPD might help patients participate in collaborative self-management plans to improve outcomes. Individuals and organizations can use the findings to modify or enhance information about COPD on their websites. Healthcare providers could also use the survey to help recommend educational websites to patients, they said.

Multiple educational approaches are important to provide both interesting and informative content about COPD on the internet, the study said.

The study has several limitations: the respondents required internet access to participate, so findings may not be applicable to patients without a computer or digital literacy; the respondents were viewing sample static screenshots and not navigating live websites; and only two organizations were selected for review.

Click here to read the entire article on AJMC.