“I had some abdominal pain, so I Googled it last night, and it said I have cancer, Doc!”
To avoid this kind of panic, read my 5 tips for finding reliable medical information on the web:
Tip #1: Avoid “.com” Websites
These tend to come from less reliable and unverified sources. They also often have advertisements and their goal is to make money off of the reader who may click on an ad. Instead, opt for websites that end in “.org” or “.gov” for your health information. Here’s a list of websites that I recommend to my patients as a more reliable source of medical information:
Tip #2: Find the Source
Always ask yourself, “Who is writing this article?” Is it written by a physician or an expert in the field? More than likely, it’s not. Many magazines and online medical articles are written by journalists with a “focus” in health. Doctors complete a minimum of 11 years of schooling to do what they do. Is a 6 month course in “health” sufficient to give advice on your heart condition? I don’t think so.
Tip #3: Be Wary of Headlines
Remember: the ultimate goal of the news, magazines, and many websites is to sell. The more frightening and controversial their writing, the more money they make. So before you buy into anything you read or see, ask yourself if the source is reliable for the type of information you are seeking. For example, Vogue magazine can certainly comment on the latest Prada collection, but is it a reliable authority on medical topics?
Tip #4: Research the Article’s Sponsors
Is the writer affiliated with an entity who wants to sell you a product? Does the author work for a pharmaceutical company? What are they trying to sell you? The source should be completely unbiased for the information to be considered reliable. Otherwise, be wary…very wary.
Tip #5: What You Are Reading is One-Dimensional
The internet cannot solve complex medical problems that require a background of experience and human reasoning. The computer cannot perform a physical exam, or feel your level of pain, anxiety, or whatever it may be. Medicine is not always cut and dry. Typing a list of symptoms into a web-based diagnosis program is not the same as seeing your health professional. Trust your doctor. And if you don’t, find one you do trust.