According to a survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, six out of every ten people in the U.S. search for health information online and confirm that the knowledge they gained, helped make a decision about their treatment options.

Medical director of Coastal Sports and Wellness Medical Center in San Diego, Dr. John M. Martinez states:

“The average person should be concerned about the validity of the information provided and the healthcare background and training of the person or company providing the information. While there are many great sources of medical information on the Internet there are also just as many that slant the information they provide to support a product, medication or treatment that they may be profiting from.”

He is of the opinion that it is a common mistake to transfer your trust from doctors to  online medical sources. He points out that “One reason medical training takes so long is the length of time it takes physicians to learn how to assess a general complaint like ‘I’m tired’ along with a careful history and exam to differentiate the possible causes.”  When a patient reads that a symptom is not anything to worry about, it takes that person longer to seek real medical evaluations.

Dr. Martinez does agree that:

“Patients have become much more knowledgeable about their diseases and medical conditions. This change has helped many of my patients become more pro-active in their treatment.”

So, the question for you if you are a healthcare provider is this- Why is it that you are not providing the information online that your patients or prospective patients are seeking?  Not only will this make you stand out from your competition in the medical community, it will cinch your place as the doctor to go to for information.  It will also help build a larger and more profitable practice.

Information can be disseminated through blog posts or a newsletter (ezine) that patients and community members can read.  You can also have a forum through your website or patient portal by which patients can share symptoms, success with treatment options and commiserate about life changes.

If you are a patient, can you trust the information that you read online or is the data presented to fill an unknown agenda?

Recent studies demonstrated that the websites the search engines featured on their first pages recommended  therapies and protocols which were not found with bonafide evidence and didn’t cite sources or conflicts of interest.

To determine whether or not a website offers trustworthy information, you need to know what to look for. “Probably the most important question to ask when looking at an Internet health resource is not what is written, but who writes it,” says James Dom Dera, M.D., assistant professor of family medicine at Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy. “Some nice graphics and a catchy URL, combined with some official looking references, is all it takes to make a site on the Internet look legitimate,” he says.

How to evaluate health websites

Gary Schwitzer, associate professor at University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication, formulated a checklist to assess healthcare claims from alternate sources. This way he can decide how accurate reporting of procedures, tests and products are prior to writing about it and spreading the information.

Here’s a simplified version of the checklist:

  1. What’s the total cost?
  2. How often do benefits occur?
  3. How often do harms occur?
  4. How strong is the evidence?
  5. Is this condition exaggerated?
  6. Are there alternative options?
  7. Is this really a new approach?
  8. Is it available to me?
  9. Who’s promoting this?
  10. Do they have a conflict of interest?

Health websites you can trust:

As a rule, websites that come from various hospitals vet the information prior to its printing and often reflects therapies and surgical procedures that are actually performed at these facilities.  In addition, the following are quite reliable:

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See you at the next post!