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Q: I've noticed that there are a lot of websites out there that provide health information. How do I know if they're reliable and what can I do to protect myself against false information?

Dr. Donnica:
The Internet has literally opened a whole new world for patient-directed research, often offering patients access to information about diagnoses and treatments about which their physicians are not yet aware or informed. This creates a significant shift of power-and responsibility-from physicians to patients. Already, more than 17 million Americans have accessed medical care data online this year, a 35% increase from 1997. Of all on-line users, nearly half have accessed medical or health information. These numbers have encouraged nearly $120 million in venture-capital funding of Internet-related health-care companies, according to Business Week. . .yet there is no regulation or quality control of the information content or advice that these sites deliver. With an estimated 15,000 health and medical sites, the amount of data that is incorrect is staggering and clearly challenges the credibility of the Web itself. Two recent attempts to address this are:

    1. Any medical/health advice will be given by medically qualified professionals unless a clear statement is made to the contrary.
    2. The information on the site is designed to support, not replace, the existing doctor-patient relationship.
    3. Patient confidentiality is respected and honored by this site.
    4. Where appropriate, information will be supported by clear references with specific HTML links. Dates of last modification of clinical pages will be clearly displayed.
    5. Any claims about specific treatments, commercial products or services will be supported by appropriate, balanced, and reference evidence.
    6. Website hosts commit to provide information in the clearest possible manner with contact information for further support.
    7. Financial support for the website will be clearly identified.
    8. If advertising is a source of funding it will be clearly stated along with the advertising policy adopted by the website owners.

  • There are numerous benefits of doing your own medical information research: it can help you better understand your diagnosis and your doctor's instructions; it can prepare you with important questions to ask your doctor; and it can facilitate compliance with your recommended therapies. This research doesn't have to be extensive: often, reading a pamphlet or a magazine article can get you started in the right direction. Getting information about-or contact with-others who have a similar condition can also be reassuring that others have undergone similar experiences; you may also benefit from others' tips, experiences, and research. This information is an adjunct to--not a substitute for--directed medical advice; however, all of these benefits can benefit your health.

    The information age may have changed the way we get information and the speed at which we can access it. It has NOT changed the fact that the most credible, most valuable, and most appropriate source of medical information is still your personal health care provider. If you have general medical questions about diseases, disorders, or conditions, by all means, search the web. If you have specific questions about yourself or your child, ask your doctor.

    Created: 9/24/2000  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

  •  The information on the site is designed to support, not replace, the existing doctor-patient relationship. 

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