How many times have you looked online to find medical information? And how many times have you been frustrated because you can’t seem to find exactly what you’re looking for, are overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices, or you’re unsure whether the information is reliable? How can you tell fact from fiction?
You want to be absolutely certain the information is credible – sound, trustworthy and current. Can you be a shrewd researcher?
Websites have become very sophisticated and it is often quite difficult, even for professionals, to gauge a site’s credibility at face value. Seemingly trustworthy sites might contain misleading and downright dangerous information.
The American Medical Association has clashed repeatedly with Mehmet (Dr.) Oz about his recommendations not always being evidence-based. WebMD has been found to be inaccurate at times. Mercola.com, a huge alternative medicine site, has been cited by the Federal Drug Administration repeatedly for making illegal health claims about the efficacy of its products.
For your health and safety, learn to tell what’s valuable and safe online with a few helpful tools.
An excellent way to assess the credibility of information on a website is by looking at the domain name (the part after the dot).
Normally, the most reliable websites are those with .gov (government agency), .edu (educational entity) or .org (in this case, health care-related associations and/or nonprofits).
These sites, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the state of Maine; Harvard University; the American Cancer Society or the Mayo Clinic are not supported by for-profit entities such as drug or insurance companies, and they are not hoping you buy something from them.
Commercial sites (the .coms) might want you to purchase their product for your treatment, manipulating the information to that end. They can be useful and accurate but they could certainly be biased. Always double-check any information coming from a commercial website.
The Medical Library Association publishes a list of Top Health Websites and it can be found at mlanet.org. These supremely helpful websites are divided into general, cancer, eye, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other topics.
Another source of excellent, vetted health care information may be found at libraries.maine.edu/mainedatabases. This is MARVEL! Maine’s Virtual Library. One of the many useful databases included is “Health Source: Consumer Edition.” MARVEL can be accessed at any library or at home.
Remember, contrary to popular belief, not everything is on the Internet. Do not overlook your local public library as a great resource.
A medical library may be even more helpful. Medical libraries exist in a number of hospitals and academic institutions around the state. They are staffed by medical librarians – people with specific training to answer health care questions. Medical librarians have access to exclusive resources, those available only by subscription.
Note that most professional medical information is not given away for free by journals or professional societies. It does not appear on the Internet.
You can be a savvy health researcher. Remember though, the information you find on the Web should supplement, not replace your personal doctor’s advice. Only your doctor can answer questions about your specific, personal health and exact situation.