We know we can’t trust everything we find on the Web, but how do we know what is safe to trust?
When it comes to the health and care of our senior loved ones, it’s important to know.
I am a health professional and caregiver. I think I have a pretty good understanding about what information is credible and what is quackery on the internet.
I have been trained to review research literature to determine if the information is accurate and can be translated into action based on the results. Is the data obtained correlated or causative?
These are two very different things when it comes to changing treatment or lifestyle practices for improved health.
Websites We Thought We Could Trust
Recently someone insisted that WebMD should not be trusted to provide credible information. I was a bit shocked, as I felt that information about our health written by doctors – WebMD says it is physician-reviewed content – should be believable and helpful to caregivers looking for health answers.
I do understand that it is, like most internet sites, a business that exists based on advertisers and sponsors. Some have criticized them for favoring drug companies’ and possibly encouraging use of certain drugs for profit, but no evidence of impropriety was found by investigations who looked.
Most non-government websites are supported by advertisers or provided by a business promoting its products and services, so that shouldn’t be the only determinant in your decision about who to trust and who to avoid, just as it isn’t for me.
I try to look for a variety of hints for valuable information on websites.
This raises the question, though, about where can we get information about our famly’s health and answers to our questions using the internet?
Let’s learn more to stay safe.
Navigating the Sea of Medical Websites
Family caregivers frequently turn to the Web for information to help understand the health conditions of loved ones and provide the care they need. Being informed is valuable.
There are thousands of informational health and medical websites from which we can choose to get quick answers, but are the answers accurate and helpful or can they be harmful?
- A good place to start to get answers is using one of the government websites, such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), National Institute of Aging (NIA), and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). These sites provide a wide range of health information and links to other reliable sources. Government sites don’t try to sell anything and usually post the latest research findings from experts in that particular field.
- Realizing that medical research is ever-changing, it is also important to be aware of the age of the health information we are accepting as factual since it may already be outdated, upgraded and found to be harmful with later developments. Is it current?
- Determining the sponsor of the website can help you decide if the information is trustworthy. The sponsor’s identity can help you decide if there are motivations behind knowledge. Are they trying to sell a product, which could influence their perspective when presenting information? You get a hint by the ending of the web address such as .gov is government agency, .edu is an educational institution like university systems, .org is often an advocacy group or nonprofit institution and .com is a business or commercial enterprise. Each of these have their own viewpoint and maybe even agenda.
- Can you contact the site somehow if you have questions about the information presented? Is there a phone number or email contact listed on the site? The more trustworthy sites give you a way to contact them.
- Is it clear who authored the article you are reading? Is the author an expert in that field or just someone who is writing what others share without real knowledge on the topic? Is the author of the article also the author of the book or product being promoted?
- Is there a link to the actual study being touted as finding the ‘miracle’ cure so you can read exactly what the researcher found and decide for yourself. Oftentimes the popular press skews a tidbit from a researcher’s paper to get a headline. We should look for evidence, not just testimonials, to stay safe.
- Can you determine if the information has been peer reviewed or examined by an editorial board of experts? Check out the About Us page on the site to determine if experts are involved.
- Does the site ask you for personal information or try to sell you something? Is it promising a cure or just offering helpful information and advice that you can choose to take or ignore? Beware of claims that are too good to be true even as you grasp for answers.
- Look for your answers at more than one website. Don’t just read the first one but many to see if there are conflicting points and to verify that the information has expert approval.
- Do you have to identify yourself, become a member or pay a fee just to see the information? Is that worth it or suspect?
Web Alone No Substitute for Your Healthcare Team
Even when you have done your due diligence and feel confident about the source of the health information you have obtained, remember that online information is not going to be 100% perfect – – and even renowned experts can have differences of opinion.
Gaining knowledge, getting some reassurance about the health decisions you make in partnership with your senior’s healthcare team and giving you guidance about what conversations you need to have with the medical team are good uses of internet medical sites.
Getting health information on the internet should not be a substitute for seeking medical care from a doctor and healthcare team.
Being a bit skeptical about the information you receive and learning from a variety of sources not accepting one site as being the only true provider will help you keep you and your senior loved ones safe.
I think we all have learned that there is no miracle cure, one superfood or one magic pill that will make all our ills disappear. We believe that knowledge is power and learning the most that we can from balanced, trustworthy websites in combination with expert advice from our personal medical team is the best course of action to stay safe and be healthy.