Just a decade ago, many businesses were just introducing websites and many of their employees didn't even have consistent Internet access. Today, even pre-schoolers are learning to use the Internet as are their grandparents and great-grandparents. The medical community has responded ambivalently to the growth of the Internet, enthusiastically embracing and then gradually shaking off various web-based programs. While online medical education remains popular among physicians, many doctors have abandoned e-mail communication with patients because it has become too burdensome and fraught with potential legal pitfalls.

Pharmaceutical marketers, on the other hand, have embraced on-line promotion to consumers, and evidence suggests their efforts may pay off-especially among many neurology patients. According to results of a recent survey published by Manhattan Research, neurological conditions account for four of the top 10 health conditions for which Americans make use of on-line health resources. These are adult ADHD, fibromyalgia, migraine, and restless leg syndrome.

More than 60 percent of adults in the US said that they use the Internet for healthcare research and to support decision making. Many of those patients are probably savvy enough to critically assess Internet sources in order to ensure the reliability of information provided and ignore those of inferior quality. However, many individuals may lack critical judgment. Plus, even reputable sources could contain inaccurate and misleading information.

Given the popularity of online health research, neurologists should be sensitive to this reality as they care for patients, especially as they render an initial diagnosis. To shepherd patients along reliable information networks, neurologists must initiate conversation about web-based resources and be prepared to recommend reliable sources. One efficient and reasonably affordable option is to establish a practice website that provides links to worthwhile Internet resources for various neurological conditions. Beyond serving as a gateway to trustworthy, accurate information for patients, a practice website can have other important benefits. It can serve as an introduction to the practice for those who have not yet visited. It may offer the convenience of on-line scheduling and prescription refills. The site could also streamline practice operations by allowing patients to download insurance and medical history forms to bring with them to the office.

Exactly how medical practices can best harness the Internet depends largely on the specifics of each individual practice, but opportunities currently exist. And they need not be expensive. Neurologists who think creatively about using the Internet to connect with patients may find that both they and their patients benefit in the long run.