Top 5 Things to Consider When Looking for Health Information Online
(ARA) – A recent study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicates a growing number of Americans are seeking general health information from the Internet as a first source, rather than consulting their doctors.
In 2003, 51 percent of those randomly surveyed said they turned to the Internet first for health information, according to the report titled, “Cancer Communication: Health Information National Trends Survey.’’ That number rose to 58 percent when the question was posed again two years later; even though another report shows the public’s trust in online material about health has declined.
People may be concerned that Internet searches often end in frustration or the retrieval of inaccurate, even dangerous information. But turning to the Internet is not necessarily a bad thing, experts say. You just need to make sure the site you’re turning to is credible and trustworthy.
How do you do that? Here are the top five things to consider when evaluating health information online:
#1 Always consider the source of information. Good sources of health information include government sites; university or medical school sites; many not-for-profit groups such as the American Diabetes Association, the American Cancer Society and American Heart Association where the focus is research and teaching the public about specific diseases or conditions; and organizations dedicated to providing health care services and sharing knowledge from their own medical experts, such as MayoClinic.com.
#2 Avoid sites that are obviously sponsoring a product or service or that want you to take action right away, like buying something or disclosing personal information. They will likely contain information that is biased or slanted. Look for a name that is a trusted source in the health care field, and make sure there’s a clear distinction between editorial and advertising content.
#3 Make sure the site you’re turning to has the latest information. You can check this by looking at the beginning or end of any article to see if it has a date and time stamp on it. Health information changes constantly as new information about treatments and diseases becomes available, and you want to make sure you’re getting the latest.
#4 Information should be presented in a clear and concise manner, and should be factual and verifiable. Check to see that the information includes attribution by an authoritative author or references legitimate sources.
#5 Make sure the site clearly states who the intended audience is. Many professional sites have one section for consumers, another for medical professionals. If the site is only directed at professionals, it’s not for you.
More savvy searchers are likely to begin their search for health information at a site such as MayoClinic.com, affiliated with one of the premiere health care institutions in the country. Philip Hagen, M.D., a senior medical editor, points out that the content on the Mayo Clinic site is written by health writers and is reviewed by physicians, scientists and researchers who are experts in their respective fields to ensure medical accuracy and reliability.
“The information on the site is not influenced by anything other than the medical evidence as interpreted by practicing physicians here at Mayo Clinic, and people recognize the value of information they can trust,” he says. “We now reach about 10 million visitors each month.”
Whether you have a question about how to protect yourself from the flu, what to do about an injury that just won’t heal, a mysterious headache that comes on suddenly and won’t go away, or how to lose weight and stay healthy, log on to www.MayoClinic.com and begin the search for information.
In addition to a broad and deep collection of resources on medical conditions and lifestyle, there are interactive tools you can use to self-assess your health and a feature called “Ask a Specialist” where the answers to questions asked by users are posted. If you don’t find the answer you’re looking for, you can e-mail a question to a Mayo Clinic specialist.
Courtesy of ARAcontent