So your doctor gives you a new diagnosis. The entire exchange takes about 10 minutes (a few more if you’re lucky). By the time you get back to your car and get over the initial shock, you realize that you did not ask questions. In fact, you may not remember everything the physician said. So you look at the prescription in your hand to try to jog your memory.
If you are like many of us, you will immediately look up your condition on the Internet. In fact, you may even look it up on your smartphone before leaving the parking lot. After all, we turn to the web for help with everything else. Why not turn to Dr. Google or Wiki, MD for more information about our health conditions? Unfortunately, not all information on the internet is up-to-date or correct. Getting the wrong information, in this case, can lead to trouble.
In general, taking online medical advice can be risky. The medical community states that using the Internet for self-diagnosis is an absolute no-no. That said, it is important to stay informed. In the end, you are your best advocate, and an informed advocate is much better than a misinformed one.
So what’s a patient to do?
[bctt tweet=”With so much conflicting information out there, what’s a patient to do?” username=”remindercall”]
Your best bet is to start your research with good sources. Here are some of the most trusted websites for patients and their families.
Best Websites for Patients
Although it may sound old school, your best place to start is with a trusted dictionary. Dictionaries are always up-to-date, and they strive to be neutral. They can give you basic information about your diagnosis and medications.
Merriam-Webster has been in the business for more than 150 years (in print and now online). They have defined dictionaries as we currently know them in the United States and are generally trusted. Dictionary.com started in 1995 as an online dictionary that boasts more than 70 million monthly users worldwide. It’s also a great source, pulling from many databases to compile its information.
Searching with a dictionary ensures that you have a clear definition of your condition before going any deeper.
If you don’t want to get medical information from big corporations, try MedlinePlus. It’s a U.S. government site put together by the National Library of Medicine—the largest medical library in the world.
It offers information about conditions in language that patients can understand. The encyclopedia hosts medical terms in both English and Spanish.
MedlinePlus does not carry advertising and is not a for-profit site. But, it is a government site. So, it may push government agendas (for example, the need for mandatory vaccinations).
On the flipside, if you don’t want to receive medical advice from the U.S. Government, you may feel more comfortable with WebMD. WebMD gets content from hundreds of doctors and medical experts in the United States. Staff physicians review and approve all content.
WebMD offers health information, including a symptom checklist, pharmacy information, and medication information. There are physician blogs with specific topics and even a place to store personal medical information.
WebMD is a non-profit organization. Yet it is sometimes criticized for appearing “too commercial”. For example, in 2010, it was investigated for having a depression-screening quiz sponsored by the manufacturer of an anti-depressant.
If you are looking for a more natural approach to your condition, try researching the Natural Medicine’s Comprehensive Database. It offers evidence-based information on alternative treatments.
Using the “consumer version,” you can look up scientific data about herbal remedies, dietary supplements, vitamins, minerals, and other natural products. This site hosts information (including effectiveness ratings), on individual ingredients. It warns against interactions with other ingredients or pharmaceuticals.
This database is published by Therapeutic Research Center which claims to accept no commercial advertising from outside pharmaceutical or healthcare device organizations. But remember, natural supplement manufacturers are not regulated. And there are less studies available to show potential side effects. So you may want to consult a holistic medicine professional before adding any to your treatment plan.
Evaluating Other Websites for Patients
When your medical research takes you deeper, it’s important to continue getting your information from credible websites. To figure out if a site is trustworthy, start by asking yourself the following questions:
1. Is someone making money here?
Companies wanting to sell drugs, devices or services publish articles about medical conditions. If you’re reading the latest “research” supporting a supplement, and there’s a handy link to purchase said supplement, you may want to look elsewhere for unbiased information.
A credible website will be transparent about who owns and runs it. Always try to see who wrote the article you have read. Look for a company, organization or author(s). If you think there’s a conflict of interest, move on.
2. Is this good information?
New studies often replace old research. So it is important to check the date and make sure the information is recent and still applies.
Also, look for the proof. Credible websites will cite the research behind their claims. Look for sources such as books and studies. Try to determine who funded the studies. Check to see if that entity could profit from the findings of any studies.
Finally, make sure the article you are reading contains ALL the information about a particular subject and doesn’t just highlight the author’s point. Remember the saying “a little learning is a dangerous thing”? Making medical decisions with partial information can lead to problems.
3. Who owns the website?
Sometimes the domain name itself can give you some clues. A .com, .org. and .net domain can belong to any individual. While a .edu domain is reserved for colleges, and a .gov indicates a government website.
Use your instincts too. If you see poor spelling and grammar, steer clear. The bottom line is: if it looks like an amateurish website, it probably is. Get your medical information elsewhere.
The Internet currently gives people access to medical information like never before. But due to out-of-date, biased or incomplete information, some patients can be misinformed. Fortunately, with a little homework and savvy, patients can use the Internet to make better healthcare decisions.
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