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Dr. Google: Dangers of Health Advice from the Web

by JoAnn Pinkerton | Mar 12, 2018

We're pleased to have a guest post from Dr. James Liu.


James H Liu, MD, NCMP

NAMS Board Member

“I’m just going to Google my symptoms.” The World Wide Web has rapidly become one of the primary ways patients look for information and advice when they are experiencing health symptoms. Medical information and advice is readily and easily available on the web, and it’s estimated that more than 80% of users have sought health-related information. Most consumers have used this route for medical advice because of its convenience, their concerns about medical costs, or the lack of timely provider availability or access. Although online medical advice is low cost, it can be high risk. A major weakness of Dr. Google is the tendency to assume that every website can be trusted equally. Information on the web is often not filtered by experts and also may be out of date. There are also multiple search engines that are available including Google, Yahoo, and Bing; however, most users limit their searches to one search engine. Most search engines overlap in listing the health information and the websites.

How can consumers without a medical background separate high-quality information from anecdotal experience or marketing efforts? Using the web to obtain health information can be effective for many users, but there is no gold standard for search engines or websites. Here are some helpful “Do’s” and “Don’ts” when looking for healthcare information:

Do’s

  • Use government websites (ie, cdc.gov; nih.gov; medlineplus.gov)
  • Use trustworthy healthcare websites such as menopause.org
  • Use academic institution websites (ie, mayoclinic.org)
  • Consider WebMD.com
  • Visit websites of products approved by the Food and Drug Administration that also may provide discount coupons
  • Check with your healthcare provider before following online medical advice
  • Use common sense

Don’ts

  • Self-diagnose
  • Rely on disreputable blogs for information
  • Rely on marketing sources for medical information

 





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