Let's see, I want to know about skin cancer so I'll put that into my Google search...OMG, 187 million hits! Okay, what if I just look for melanoma...better, 21 million hits.
This isn't an uncommon scenario in our age of instant information. More people than ever before are turning to the web to find information on healthcare and related issues. According to a study by the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project in 2011, 74 percent of adults use the Internet and 59 percent of adults have looked up information on health-related topics. In addition, 18 percent of adults have read reviews on specific drugs or medical treatments and 12 percent have consulted online physician or healthcare provider reviews and rankings. The Challenge: With all the information available on any conceivable healthcare topic, how do you access trusted information that you feel comfortable using to educate yourself or to make important health decisions?
MedlinePlus, a service of the US National Library of Medicine, has a great resource paper entitled "Evaluating Health Information nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/evaluatinghealthinformation.html which includes a tutorial on accessing and evaluating information on the web. There are some questions you should ask yourself any time you evaluate a site.
1. Who sponsors the website? Going to a trusted organization is a good way to access good reliable information such as the federal government (nih.gov), an academic institution (Dartmouth University), or a nationally recognized society (American Cancer Society). Look at the "about us" to get to the page that lists specifics about the sponsor. Be wary of sites sponsored by for-profit companies or companies that sell products for the condition you are researching.
2. Who wrote the information? Does the site have an editorial board or a panel of experts who wrote and reviewed the information? Does it reference other national sites or recently published peer reviewed articles in well-known medical journals or site obscure references and individuals' experiences?
3. Is the information recent? The time medical information is relevant shortens daily, make sure you check several up-to-date sites.
5. The site makes claims that seem too good to be true; chances they are? Be sure to check several sites. Seeing confirming information on several trusted sites should give you comfort that the information you are seeing is probably reliable.
6. Make sure to check information with your physician? Chances are your physician might be able to direct you to reliable sites for information on specific conditions. They will also help you sort through the information you obtain to make sense of it for you.
The web has enabled us to access a vast mountain of information to help us in many facets of our life, especially healthcare. Using this resource wisely will help you find more diamonds and dig through less rock.