Learn How to Evaluate Online Health InformationDecember 09, 2016
Before the invention of the internet, the options for getting health information were limited. Flash forward 30 years and an overwhelming amount of health information is at your fingertips.
Google a symptom and thousands of “cures” – from the medically sound, to alternative treatments, to downright dangerous ideas – will pop up. How can you make sense of it all and know what to trust, and what effect has all this information had on the public?
- The Good
- More Engaged Patients
Research suggests that patients take a more active role in managing their own care when they are well informed about their conditions and treatment options.
- Connected Communities
Living with an illness can be isolating, but the internet has helped bring people together. Now, people can connect with others in online communities and via social media to share experiences and treatments that have worked for them, or just to feel understood.
- The Bad
- Anxious Consumers
We’ve all been there: One minute you have a headache, and the next you’ve Googled your way to a diagnosis of something very scary, like a brain tumor. Researchers call this “cyberchondria,” and almost half of people who research medical info online wind up more anxious about their health than when they started.
- Confused Patients
Researching general wellness information online can be helpful, but when it comes to actually researching a condition, things can get confusing—and unreliable. For example, one study found that almost half of results for the top medical condition searches produced results for commercial sites. Many of these sites promoted their own treatment products without scientific evidence to back up their claims. With so much conflicting information available, it’s tricky for the average person without a medical degree to wade through it all.
- What Can You Trust?
Here are some things to keep in mind when judging the trustworthiness of online health information:
- Website Publisher:In general, websites owned by federal government agencies, meaning they end in .gov, are sites you can trust. There are plenty of other useful, credible sites that end in .edu, .org, and .com, like WebMD and hospital websites.
- Testimonials: Personal stories can be useful for gaining understanding, but not everyone’s experiences with medical conditions are the same. What worked for one person might not work for you.
- Publish Date: Health research is constantly changing. Check the date the article was published and/or updated to be sure the information is timely.
- Health Claims:Be wary of websites that make bold claims about a product or remedy that will allegedly cure a disease.
Always make sure that you can find the same information from multiple sources, and talk to your doctor about what you’ve learned online before making any changes in your treatment plan.