Can you believe what you see on the TV and Internet?
If you are looking for medical information, there is no shortage in supply to finding it. When you are watching TV, there is always a new commercial for a recently released medication. If you are feeling sick, you go to your computer and try to find out what is wrong based on your symptoms, which will turn up a whole bunch of possible answers. How do you determine the information you hear or find is reliable and accurate?
The internet has allowed all information to be distributed widely in short periods of time. Unfortunately, not all of this information is accurate. Also, the way some websites are designed can be misleading. Often, they may seem like they are representing a reputable source, but it isn’t true. Medical information is no exception to this process. There are millions of websites that have medical information and making it hard to determine which information is true versus which is false. Since it is your health that is in question, it is essential to verify all the information you find prior to acting on it.
Things to Consider
There are several things to keep in mind when you are surfing the internet to find medical information. The source of a website’s funding should be clearly stated or readily available because this can affect what the content is, how it is presented and what the owners of the website want to accomplish with it. A website should have a page that plainly states the purpose of the site. Often it is called “About This Site” or “About Me” page. The credentials for an author should be listed and if any information was not an original idea of the author, it should be stated where the material was obtained from. Also, a source should be provided for any facts or figures, which should be easily distinguishable from the opinions or advice the author provides. Medical information is constantly being updated because new things are being discovered and technology is continually being improved. So, the information that a website provides should be reviewed periodically and updated to reflect the most current data. If you find information, make sure that it has been written or updated within the past two to three years to still be considered current. Both of these dates should be clearly marked somewhere on the page. A reliable website should have a way for you to contact them with any feedback, questions or problems. Be wary of any information that is provided by a website that is trying to sell you a service or product. If you can’t verify the website’s claims through research from a non-related site, then the information probably isn’t true. A good thing to look for is the Health On the Net (HON) Foundation’s seal of approval. HON is a self-governing entity that created a code of ethical conduct that health websites must follow in order to use the seal of approval on the website. This code of conduct includes authorship, documentation of materials and listing sponsorship of the site. By requiring this, when readers see the HON seal of approval, they know what they are reading is accurate and has been verified.
Typically, any material found on websites that are operated by the government, non-profit health organizations or university medical centers is more reliable than information found elsewhere. Information that is found on commercial or individual websites can be useful, but it is important to verify its accuracy from another source. There are several websites that are reputable and provide accurate, up-to-date data. MedlinePlus and DailyMed are run by the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) U.S. Library of Medicine. All of the information is written by healthcare professionals and the latter is sourced directly from the Food and Drug Administration. Also, the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements is a great place to find data for vitamins and supplements. The websites for the Mayo Clinic and John Hopkins have a plethora of information about conditions, tests and procedures. Healthfinder.gov is a great site to go to find out information after you’ve been to the doctor and have a diagnosis. Sometimes you are looking for material that is specific to certain diseases. For cancer, you can visit the American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute or Cancer Care. For heart disease, you can visit the American Heart Association or National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. For diabetes, you can visit the American Diabetes Association or National Diabetes Education Program.
Tips to Help
If you are using the internet to look up symptoms that you are having, it is essential to keep a few things in mind. First of all, it is key to remain calm. Do you think what you are experiencing is a major or minor issue? If you feel that it is a major issue, seek medical attention immediately rather than waiting until you have finished your search. If it is a minor issue, feel free to continue your search, but remember that most likely you are experiencing a common condition, not some rare disorder. Besides the internet, there are a few places you can go to ask any questions you might have, such as the Employee Assistance Program hotline that is provided by your job or there are several new apps that allow you to ask a question to a live, on-call doctor for a nominal fee.
While you can learn a great deal about medical information on the internet, it is essential to remember that you should not diagnose or treat yourself solely based off of this information and it shouldn’t replace medical advice that you obtain from a healthcare provider. You can use the knowledge you have gained to converse with your doctor about your concerns, but don’t forget to be open minded when it comes to hearing what they think the issue is. Finding truthful and reliable medical information can be a challenge. Hopefully, now you feel more comfortable at being able to accurately judge the quality of what you’re reading.