It’s hardly startling news that the Internet has become a huge source of medical information for patients. If you took a poll of all family physicians, you’d find that most would say their patients come to them after scouring the Web to see what could be causing their symptoms and to find out what they can take to treat it. Some doctors would probably say that many patients don’t even come to them at all for conditions that they should have checked out.
Cyberspace is a common source of health advice for patients everywhere. People who stay informed are more likely to understand treatment goals and why certain strategies, such as lifestyle changes, are vitally important to their health. According to a recent study, the Internet is officially the number two source of health information, behind a doctor.
Researchers arrived at this conclusion after polling patients who were newly diagnosed with lung cancer. Before they asked friends and family, read medical journals or periodicals, went to the library, or watched television programs on the subject, they turned on their computer and checked out the Internet first.
Though it is commonly used for this purpose, the Internet is not always reliable. While you should feel free to use the Web, you must use caution when trawling its waters. With health so prominent these days, and not to mention a moneymaking opportunity for entrepreneurs, there is no shortage of pages devoted to seemingly useful information. But the quality is of great concern, as even material written for doctors on the Web often fails to meet basic quality standards.
Some are worried that patients are putting too much emphasis on Internet information; that they are self- medicating based on potentially flawed advice; or that they delay seeking medical attention because that they figure they can try something on their own first. Or perhaps one web site made them feel reassured that their fatigue and difficulty concentrating were related to something minor.
The Web should be used as a resource and never a final word. At Doctors Health Press, we reveal the latest groundbreaking studies and give you valuable information — but always recommend you discuss them with your doctor first. Better safe than sorry, as they say. In any event, when you take to the Internet, follow a few tips for determining quality of information:
1) Who runs the site? Take a look at the “About Us” section and see if they are reputable. As a hint, the most trustworthy sites are those with nothing to gain: educational institutions, government health sites, medical journals, non- profits, and health centers (e.g. the Mayo Clinic).
2) What is the purpose of the site? Is it for information only or do they have products for sale? Are they trying to raise funds?
3) Is the information based on evidence? Sites should be updated and reviewed if they are to be trusted. Do they list sources at the bottom — take a gander through those references and see if most are actual medical studies.
4) Are there links to other sites? Are those sites reputable?