The Winnipeg Clinic Logo

The Winnipeg Clinic

The Winnipeg Clinic is one of the largest multispecialty clinics in Canada.

 

Online Health Information .... Surfer Beware

Thanks to Joel Cooper for his permission to use this warning

The Internet has become a powerful tool for finding information on a very wide variety of health and medical topics. Most sources are reputable, reliable, and truly have the best interests of healthcare consumers in mind. There are exceptions, however. It is wise, therefore, to be cautious with the information you do find. When you are perusing health and medical information on-line, please keep the following points in mind for your own protection:

1. Only your personal physician, who is familiar with your individual health history and profile and your current health status, is truly qualified to make a diagnosis, prescribe a medication, or recommend a treatment.

2. Medical research (and our state of medical knowledge) is a train that keeps chugging down the tracks daily. Since ancient times, that train has traveled a considerable distance, and now physicians and other healthcare professionals are pretty smart about health and disease and what makes our bodies tick. But remember...it's a moving train, which means that even the latest available medical information (or wisdom) may be obsolete by the time it reaches you on the Internet. Or, more likely, the information may be too new for doctors (or healthcare consumers) to interpret or understand in any meaningful way.

Doctors are sometimes a bit slow to adopt new treatments, and no wonder! While they certainly want to help you, they also don't want to hurt you. Many times, new treatments reported with fanfare in the media just don't have sufficient research data backing them up. Often, long-term safety data for the particular drug or treatment in question aren't in yet. It's probably best to err on the side of caution in cases like this, and rely on older, proven remedies instead of throwing caution to the wind and possibly risking a patient's life or well-being. You can certainly ask and encourage your doctor to look into new treatments you've heard about on the Internet or elsewhere, but don't expect him or her to throw out "the old medical bag" in favor of the latest, greatest newfangled treatment reported on the local news station last night.

3. There are quacks and charlatans out there. Internet information is not regulated or controlled, which is probably a very good thing for freedom-of-the-press reasons, but it means that you have to take things posted on the Internet with a grain of salt (and a healthy dose of skepticism). Consider the source of the information. Ask yourself if they're trying to sell you anything. If it's information from a major medical association, a major non-profit educational resource organization, or the U.S. Government, it's likely to be more accurate and reliable than information posted on a site whose sole purpose is to sell you a "wonder drug" or "miracle cure" of one kind or another.

Remember...if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

4. It is a cruel fact of life that when you are most sick, you are most vulnerable. It is a sad statement about humanity, but nevertheless a true one, that some people make a business of preying on the vulnerable, the sick, the weak, or the confused. Senior citizens, often alone and isolated and sometimes far too trusting, are particularly susceptible to the slick, hope-giving lines of the master salesman. But everyone is susceptible to some extent. If money is to be made selling this or that nostrum, people will find a way to sell it, on or off the Internet. An excellent source of information on what works, what doesn't, and what should be banned outright is FDA Consumer Magazine published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. You can subscribe to it at very reasonable cost. For more information, call (202) 512-2250 or surf to FDA Consumer. http://www.fda.gov/fdac/default.htm

Some time ago, FDA did an entire article on this very subject -- namely, how can you tell what's cool and what's for fools on the Internet.

Click here to read it. http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/596_info.html (page is currently unavailable)

5. If you're in doubt about some treatment or medication which you hear about on the Internet, talk with your doctor. Your doctor may not have all the answers, but graduating from medical school and completing a long residency is usually a pretty good indication that this person won't be easily fooled, and he or she should be a great source of reliable information for you, the patient. If you don't like what your doctor is telling you, it's always your right to get a second opinion. However, if you lack trust in your doctor, perhaps you should be shopping for a new doctor as well.

It's not in your best interest to seek medical advice from a physician, and then discount or ignore it. Finding a good doctor in whom you have confidence could be one of the most important healthcare decisions you'll ever make.

© 1998, Joel R. Cooper All rights reserved

For permission to reproduce this article, write to the author at jcooper@medreport.com