The importance of being expert: The quest for cancer information on the Internet
To people with the necessary technology the internet can provide vast amounts of health information. However, there are concerns about the quality of the information and how it may affect relationships between patients and doctors. Little empirical research has examined how the internet is used by those diagnosed with a serious illness. This study uses in-depth interviews collected for DIPEx projects with men and women with cancer. The analysis is informed by Radley and Billig's (Sociol. Health Illness 2 (1996) 220) observation that accounts of illness require patients to simultaneously display themselves as 'worthy individuals, as more or less fit participants in the social world' and on Arthur Frank's work on quest narratives. Drawing on in-depth interviews with a woman with inflammatory breast cancer and a man with prostate cancer I will demonstrate how the internet has been used not only to gather information and gain support from others but also to make sense of the experience of cancer. The ability to access health information on the internet may provide patients with an opportunity to display a particularly modern marker of competence and social fitness. However, one of the consequences of easier access to health information may be the emergence of a felt imperative to be (or present oneself as) an expert and critical patient, able to question advice and locate effective treatments for oneself. © 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.