Flawed Internet study broadcast worldwide, sparks controversy (Australian Doctor.com.au)

November 17, 2004 by sa4fa@virginia.edu

A STUDY that made headlines around the world by claiming patients researching health information on the Internet had negative health outcomes will be withdrawn from the web-based Cochrane Library, after the findings were found to be flawed.

The University College London study, which appeared in the last issue of the well-respected research resource and was reported in Australian Doctor (Take advantage of patient Internet use, 29 October), claimed Internet health information sites and chat lines did not improve patients behaviour in dealing with their condition and resulted in poor clinical outcomes.

When the study was released, researchers at UCL expressed surprise at the outcomes. It also drew criticism from Australian academics and prompted an outcry from international Internet health experts.

Dr Elizabeth Murray, the UCL researcher who headed the project, said a combination of human error and software problems had caused inaccuracies. Eight out of the 11 clinical outcomes and three of the behavioural ones were entered incorrectly, which led to false conclusions.

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