Searching the Internet for medical advice can leave anyone with a bad case of information overload. The Internet can be very helpful, of course, but you have to know how to sort the reliable science from the junk.
The first thing to do when reading a medical site is to know your source. There should be an “About Us” tag that tells you who maintains the site and why. If this section is missing, or if the site seems focused on selling something, look elsewhere or proceed with skepticism.
Who can you trust?
The most reliable sources include accredited medical schools, university teaching hospitals and reputable nonprofit organizations such as the American Heart Association. These sites (which end in .edu and .org) provide health information and libraries. Government sources such as the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Mayo Clinic are also reliable.
Getting your source is only part of the equation. “You should also check with your healthcare provider,” said Mary Cushman, M.D., a professor of medicine at the University of Vermont Medical School.
“I encourage my patients to share what they’re reading online with me,” said Cushman, also an American Heart Association volunteer. “It’s not just about verifying the credibility of the source. It’s also an opportunity to provide context and follow-up on a topic they may be learning about for the first time. I also point them to sites I trust and approve of.”
If it sounds too good to be true …
You should be especially skeptical of news headlines about miracle cures or unlikely treatment breakthroughs. Again, apply the “know your source” principle. In general, the most credible research is done in large academic institutions or government centers such as the NIH or CDC. The highest-quality studies are published in “peer-reviewed” or “refereed” journals such as Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, the New England Journal of Medicine or the Journal of the American Medical Association. These publications only accept articles that have been rigorously evaluated by medical experts. For a list of peer-reviewed journals, visit Ulrich’s Periodical Directory Online.
Be aware of your own limitations…
Even with legitimate information, there should always be a caution when you try to identify your own health problems via the Internet. Without the appropriate training and the necessary face-to-face exam and follow-up testing by your physician, it is too easy to self-diagnose only to find that you are completely wrong. Unfortunately, you may link your symptoms to a disease that is far worse than what you really have. In such cases, you may find yourself stressing for days over nothing. In all, always consult with your doctor with any serious medical issue.
Using medical blogs and chat rooms …
Medical blogs or chat rooms are a great way to connect with others who share your health concerns, but remember that these people may not be experts.
“You don’t really know who that person is online,” Cushman said. “No matter how good their intentions, don’t take their word for it. Check with your doctor.”
Adopted from: American Heart Association