The Internet is used increasingly to recruit patients for studies of gastroenterological disorders.
The Internet allows access to potentially large study populations but no data exist comparing Internet-based populations with patients recruited from a clinical setting.
Dr Michael Jones and colleagues from Ilinois, USA conducted an assessment of the quality of life in patients with active inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBD) recruited from a gastroenterology clinic and the Internet.
|IBS Internet respondents were more likely to be male|
|The American Journal of Gastroenterology|
The team recruited patients from a university gastroenterology clinic, and several condition-specific support group web sites.
The researchers confirmed diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease for clinic patients while Internet respondents were self-identified.
Subjects completed both general (Short Form-36) and condition specific (Irritable Bowel Syndrome-quality of life) measures.
Subjects with inflammatory bowel disease included 47 recruited from clinic, and 96 recruited from the Internet.
The irritable bowel syndrome group included 147 patients recruited from clinic, and 84 recruited from the Internet.
The researchers found that inflammatory bowel disease Internet respondents were more likely to be women.
In contrast, irritable bowel syndrome Internet respondents were more likely to be male than irritable bowel syndrome clinic patients.
The team found that, compared with patients seen in clinic, both irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease Internet respondents had poorer quality of life as measured by both questionnaires.
The greatest decrements in quality of life occurred on Short Form-36 scales for physical and emotional roles and social functioning.
On the irritable bowel syndrome-quality of life, the greatest decrement was seen on scales for dysphoria and life interference.
Significant differences were maintained after controlling for gender.
Dr Jones and team concluded, "For both irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, Internet-respondents had significantly poorer quality of life than subjects recruited from clinic."
"These data demonstrate that subjects recruited from the Internet may represent a clinically distinct population."
"Data obtained from online surveys may not generalize to broader clinical populations."
"Further study is needed to determine whether these differences reflect psychosocial characteristics of Internet responders or simply self-report behaviors in a relatively anonymous environment."