Medical Advice and the World Wide Web – Who to Trust?

If you're like the majority of people in this country, you're quick to take to the internet with your symptoms when you're feeling under the weather. The problem with this tactic is that not only can you get inaccurate information, but you may inadvertently convince yourself you have cancer, are having a heart attack, or are suffering from some other deadly condition. This accomplishes nothing, other than that it causes you to worry much more than is necessary. Obviously, the best course of action is just to make an appointment with your doctor if you think there is really cause for concern, but let's be honest – most of us will Google our medical woes nonetheless.

So what can you do? There are some good tips out there that you can take into consideration when playing Mr. or Mrs. Doctor. For instance, a good rule of thumb is to stick to websites run by governments, nonprofits, or medical organizations. University medical centers (which are usually identifiable by a .edu web address) are usually pretty reliable, too. And when in doubt, you can always click on the "About Us" section of the website to determine pretty quickly whether or not the information on the site is accurate or "agenda-ridden." For example, websites sponsored by drug and insurance companies are usually looking to sell you a product rather than trustworthy, unbiased medical advice. You can also look at the bottom of the website for an "HONcode" seal, which indicates that the information is certified by the Health on the Net Foundation.

Some reliable, unbiased websites you've probably heard of include MayoClinic.com and Medlineplus.gov. Other condition-specific sites include the websites for the American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society, Congenital Heart Information Network, American Diabetes Association, National Diabetes Education Program, Alzheimer's Association, and Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation.

Another good idea is to look for websites that doctors use themselves. Chances are, if medical professionals are using it to assist their practice and teaching, it's safe for you to trust. For example, the Consumer and Patient Health Information Section has compiled a list of internet sites that have been assessed for a variety of credibility factors, including sponsorship/authorship, content, audience, currency, disclosure, purpose, links, design, interactivity, and caveats. You can see the full list of their top 100 sites here: http://caphis.mlanet.org/consumer/top100all.pdf.

It's also important to look out for transparency. In other words, if it's hard for you to determine what the website's agenda is, what its sources are, and who's running it, you might not want to trust it. You should be able to tell without too much trouble the company, organization, or business that is offering you a medical diagnosis. If the website asks for information from you, it should be very clear about what it will and will not do with those personal details. The website should also very clearly state what its sources are as well as back up those sources (for example, by clarifying that the information was confirmed by medical experts).

Sources:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-t-miller/online-medical-information_b_3667454.html

http://caphis.mlanet.org/consumer/

http://www.partnerforqualitycare.org/pdf/How_can_you_find_trustworthy_infomation_web_links.pdf

About the Author:

Iris Stone has worked as a freelance writer since 2011. Her writing has included content on medicine, healthcare, and education, although her interests are wide and varied. Prior to breaking into the freelance biz, Iris worked in sales for a health company and prior to that as an assistant in a chiropractic office. She is currently attending George Mason University and is majoring in Political Science. Check out her Google+ profile.

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