Patients and carers now have unprecedented access to health information via specialist journals and the popular media, while the worldwide web has revolutionised public access to clinical information. Levels of patient demand for information about health have grown and there is evidence to suggest that patients wish to receive more information than is sometimes currently provided by clinicians. In secondary care, some specialisms have more readily adopted the use of information communication technologies (ICT) in clinician/patient communication than others. This paper focuses on clinicians' perceptions of client Internet use for psychiatric conditions and studies the influence this has had on the consultation process in the United Kingdom. The research method consisted of a postal questionnaire distributed to the members of the Women in Psychiatry Group on the register of the Royal College of Psychiatry. Telephone interviews were conducted, employing the critical incident method, as well as a brief additional questionnaire. The data show that psychiatrists who used the Internet discerned client usage more readily. Where the client sought to discuss information acquired electronically with the consultant this tended to extend the consultation period, but a number of psychiatrists reported a greater sense of partnership as a result. The paper explores consultant perceptions of client motivations for Internet use and the perceived advantages and disadvantages for both client and psychiatrist. Overall, the psychiatry profession appears to be following the lead of clients in the use of ICT. Policy recommendations are offered with respect to the provision of profession-validated information on the Internet and psychiatrists' training in IT.
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