I came across a study recently that mentioned that a majority of the patients we see will have already seen Dr. Google before they set foot through the door. The internet enables us to access such a gold mine of information, but is some of it fool’s gold? It is important when looking for health information, to source evidence from reliable sources. In this blog, I will discuss how to look for sound information on the internet.
Let’s start at the bottom of the barrel.
User contributed websites and databases are often poor sources of information. These could be forums, question/answer databases, social media and many non-supervised wikis. The problem is that any person has the ability to post and edit content, with the ability to post what they like. What is so bad about this? Unsourced data, incorrect terminology, anecdotal evidence (see the next point), misinformation and the potential to cause harm. I have noticed an insurgence of wiki type sources that promote DIY skincare treatments that are potentially dangerous. It is best to steer clear of these places when looking for health information online.
Some websites that appear to provide health information may rely on what is called anecdotal evidence, i.e. supporting evidence that relies on testimony rather than experimental data. There is a place for this kind of data, and it is can be handy when understanding the experience of patients or people with the same illness as you. This might be found in blogs, discussion forums and/or “magic cure” product advertising, yet there is often no scientific research to support their (personal) findings. Read anecdotal evidence with a cautious eye.
Health websites that are associated with organisations such as universities, health professionals*, hospitals, charities, support groups and government are reliable sources of information. If you read something on a reliable website, you are likely to read the same type of information on another website. The website usually provides a bibliography or further reading on the subject from another reliable source. This is a good place to look for health information.
* For example this website, however it is possible for somebody to pose online as a surgeon, registered nurse, dietitian or dermatologist without any real qualification.
Remember, common things happen commonly.
It is easy to get stuck on a tangent and find yourself looking up rare tropical diseases or genetic disorders. Suddenly, your trip the snow has landed you sick with a Leishmaniasis, and you are biting your nails waiting to see the doctor to confirm your worries. Just remember, that common things occur commonly. The internet can only provide information and guide you, not diagnose you. And if you are wondering, Leishmaniasis is a group of diseases caused by protozoan parasites.
No matter what source of information you find on the internet, always consider if it is a reliable source. The internet is inescapable in today’s world. Misinformation can cause undue stress for patients, and increasing your research skills will hopefully help this. Good luck!
Done some digging and are you concerned about your skincare? Contact us for a free skin assessment using Dermalogica’s FaceMapping Skin Analysis, on 1300 123 368.