Health gets more clicks than porn on the Web

Health overtakes porn as the main reason for people logging onto the Internet

Last month traffic on health sites overtook that of porn sites for the first time, according to a report published by research firm Forrester.

It is estimated that almost half of Internet users now access online health sites with around 20,000 Web sites currently supplying healthcare information.

As the Consumers' Association questions whether the government's flagship health hotline NHS Direct, is putting lives at risk by supplying inconsistent advice, the medical industry is concerned that patients are getting a raw deal from online health sites.

"We want to see patients getting good quality health information -- the surplus amount of medical advice that is now available on the Internet will make it difficult for the public to distinguish between inaccurate and quality information," says a spokeswoman at the British Medical Association (BMA).

Jim Donohue, managing director of Internet health site NetDoktor backs this view up, claiming that "there is no one validation and quality control provided on the information that is being posted by less accountable healthcare sites".

The threat will come, according to the BMA, if Britain follows the US in allowing the prescription of medicines via online consultations. "We're not in favour of prescribing over the Internet," says a spokeswoman. "There is a lot more to making a diagnosis than exchanging words."

US drug firms are additionally allowed to advertise their products directly to consumers via the Web and many doctors think it is inevitable that this will eventually happen within the UK. The BMA is concerned that the boundaries between advertising and information could become blurred.

"Patients might be over-influenced by a drug company's message that is solely focused on promoting its own interests," and so have distributed a discussion document to UK drug companies.

Forrester Research predict that by 2005, business-to-business trade of medical supplies and equipment will amass to a grand total of £53bn in Europe and $348bn in the US.

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