Women prefer GPs to the Internet when trying to find out about HRT

'HRT "doubles breast cancer risk"'

'"Don't panic" over HRT research'

Recent media reports are littered with headlines such as these. What impact are such headlines likely to have on women considering, or currently taking, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and where will they turn for further information and advice?

A study jointly funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC) suggests that, without significant policy rethinking, GPs are likely to remain the most important source of information and advice to women, despite increasing access to sources of health information like the Internet.

The study investigated the processes by which women found out about HRT and its risks and benefits. In particular, the study identified the main concerns women had about risks, their main sources of information, their interpretations of what they found, and how this fed into their decision-making to take HRT or not.

Thirty-two mid-life women, all of whom had been prescribed HRT, were recruited through a GP practice or gynaecological clinic. Sixteen of these were followed up over a period of a year to assess the significance of changed health status or new research and/or media reports on their approach to information seeking regarding HRT risks. Health care professionals (GPs, obstetrics and gynaecology consultants) consulted by a sub-group of women were also interviewed, and observations of consultations between doctors and patients were also made.

The study focused on the debate concerning 'patient involvement' in the health service, now a major strand of government health policy. A key aspect of this is the extension of 'informed choice', where patients are supposed to take a more central role in decision-making about their health treatment options and other aspects of health care. New media services such as NHS Direct (telephone and online services), and the Internet more generally

Contact: Anna Hinds
Economic & Social Research Council

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