Is the Internet a reliable source of information for health?

It’s been said that 70 to 80 percent of healthcare is self-care. But when healthcare turns to medical care—when disease arrives—it requires information most of us don’t have. Today, ordinary people can find information online that they could never reach before. So smart web users are increasingly becoming e-patients: empowered, engaged, equipped and enabled.

Recent reports suggest that 80 percent of online adults turn to the Web for health advice and information, and one in four chronic-disease patients goes online to find others like themselves. It makes sense: We go online to learn about far less important things, so it’s natural to do so when a family member’s health is at stake.

Clearly, people are learning to find what they need online. The problem is; how do you filter the gold from the garbage?

 

Answer: turn to professionals. This suggests that “paging dr. Google” doesn’t replace professionals, it supplements them.

Beware, not everyone online is trustworthy; it is suggested that up to 50% of medical / healthcare information online is unreliable. So yes, feel free to research your family’s health—after all, whose health is it? Just be smart about it.

The same as with anything you do online. Inform yourself, think and verify: never trust just one type of source.

The Internet user’s first responsibility is to learn which websites are the most trustworthy. Sometimes the answer is obvious: the NHS direct site will give you more reliable, evidence-based information about the flu than the blogs of flu sufferers trying out novel treatments. But the reliability question does not always have an obvious answer. Some patient-based websites (e.g.,patientsLikeme.com) are excellent sources of information about the experiences of patients with complex medical conditions

Meanwhile, some sites that at first seem to be simply informative are advancing the agenda of a commercial enterprise. for example, depression.com, despite its innocent-sounding domain name, is anything but innocent. a few clicks will take you to a description of depression as a neurochemical dis- order that might respond well to medication. The makers of the antidepressants paxil and Wellbutrin sponsor the site

Source reliability isn’t the only thing that Web users have to be careful about. some symptom checkers (Webmd.com) are often more alarming than empowering; online consultations with unknown "experts" (Justanswer.com) can lengthen, rather than shorten, the process of finding answers to medical questions and the fact is that even good information isn’t helpful if you don’t know how to interpret it or how to use it for good decision-making. A study done for microsoft in 2008 demonstrated that online health-information seekers tend to "catastrophize": a person Googling "headache" is more likely to follow links to "brain tumor" than to "sinus infection."

We should be informed about health maintenance and illness prevention, and we should learn as much as we can about our own chronic conditions, but we need to do it sensibly.

 

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