Health Information On The Internet: What The Internet Can & Cant Do For You

The internet can be a source of information - too much information, in fact. How do you sort out whatís useful and whatís nonsense? Here are a few tips to help sort out internet fact from fiction:

1) Usenet groups can be sources of support, but the medical information you read may be a mixed bag. If youíve been diagnosed with any disease, from the common to the rare, find a site or a group that has other people with it can be a supportive environment, providing information on how different people experience and cope with their disorder. People may have information on what doctors they like and why, what theyíve experienced on a particular treatment, and what organizations have useful information.

However, usenet groups canít evaluate your condition or determine what the best treatment is for you. Treatments and their effectiveness vary from person to person - as do many diseases. Donít use your fellow usenet users as medical advisors.

2) Websites cannot provide a diagnosis. If your symptoms match symptoms of a disease that you read about on the internet, that may be a clue that this is something to ask your healthcare provider about, but it does not mean that you have that disease. Even quizzes with answers that provide a possible diagnosis are exactly that - one of many possible diagnoses. Until someone has actually examined you and done any appropriate tests, a match of symptoms might not mean a thing. You would be suspicious of any healthcare provider who talked to you from the other side of a curtain, didnít examine you, see you, or order tests, just asked you a few questions and then said, ďAh, I see, you have liver cancer.Ē And well you should be! A physician who does that isnít worth his or her salt as a diagnostician. And thatís exactly what any website that purports to give you a diagnosis is doing.

3) Just because itís on the internet, doesnít mean itís true. Rumors, fiction, and half-truths abound on the internet, particularly about health. Ask your healthcare provider for good sources of factual information about health and illness.

4) Check for who is running the website - a .gov or .edu at the end of a website is a clue to look into the site further. Sites run by a major medical center, university hospital, or governmental agency is more likely to have regulated and reviewed content. Ask yourself if the site trying to sell something, whether physicians regularly review the web content, and whether the site has had a recent update. Also check out Health-On-The Net Foundation (HON), Hi-Ethics, and the IHC Code sites - they provide seals of approval that let you know that sites run by for-profit companies are reliable.

5) Use the Web to help you arm yourself with information. gives medical and health websites a score based on expert evaluation and user questionnaires. also rates health and other sites, using an automated system that includes a couple of dozen criteria.

Ian Mason, owner of Shoppe.MD, your source for Online Prescription Medications and health news.

Ian studies health, weight loss, exercise, and several martial arts; maintaining several websites in an effort to help provide up-to-date and helpful information for other who share his interests in health of body and mind.

Contact Ian Mason by e-mail at [email protected].


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