This paper considers the impact of the Internet on professional services, which are characterised by high levels of interpersonal interaction and where a significant component of the service product is information and expertise. For such services the Internet is primarily an accessible information resource, which has potential to fundamentally change the way in which consumers interact with service providers. The context for the research is healthcare, a professional service that has traditionally been characterised by an information asymmetry that has rested power in the hands of the professional. Based on interviews with healthcare professionals, Web site hosts and consumers, this paper considers the way in which consumers use the Internet to educate themselves about their condition and the consequent effect on the service encounter and the doctor/patient relationship. The findings indicate that patients are increasingly engaging in virtual, parallel service encounters that change the nature of the primary encounter and present challenges to professionals both in terms of relationships and their professional judgement.
- health service
- professional services