The internet has become a major source of health information and misinformation with more than 10000 health related sites. Many people want to learn more about medications and treatments and others share experiences with people with similar people via chat rooms.
The internet permits ease of access to cutting edge medical knowledge and bridges the communication gap created by high tech medicines. However it also has serious drawbacks. According to a recent analysis simple queries for terms such as obesity or depression often relate to irrelevant sites with incomplete information or sites that are difficult to understand. Many sites are used to promote products or people. Some chat rooms encounters with unpleasant people.
Here are tips for evaluating online health sites:
- Check the creator. Websites are produced by health agencies, health support groups, health educators, health product advertisers, health education organizations. It is often difficult to distinguish biased commercial advertisement from unbiased sites created by scientists or health agencies. Read site headers and footers carefully.
- If you are looking for the most recent research, check the date of the page created and last updated as well as the links. Several non working links signal that the website isn’t carefully maintained or updated.
- Check the references. As with other health education materials web documents should provide the reader with the references. Unreffered suggestions may be unwarranted and possibly unsafe.
- Consider the author. Is he or she is recognized in the field of health education or otherwise qualified to publish a health related web document? Does the author list his/her occupation, experience and education?
- Look for possible bias. Websites may be attempting to provide healthful information to consumers, but they also may be attempting to sell a product. Many sites are merely disguised advertisements.
In future video conferencing may allow doctors to check a patient in cyberspace. So be wise to choose your online health care provider.