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The Internet has become the go-to place for all manner of personal inquiries, including medical research: A recent survey found that 6 in 10 adults have gone online in the past year to diagnosis health issues. But how accurate is the information we find?
On KevinMD.com, family physician Kenneth Lin warns than many health websites contain “flawed, inaccurate, or biased” information. Sometimes, the group running the site may have a hidden agenda, such as a drug company that promotes awareness of a previously unrecognized to spur consumer demand for its new product – a practice known as “disease mongering". Or an organization may willfully disregard scientific evidence to promote certain health beliefs.
For his patients who need trustworthy health information, Lin recommends several websites that have received a high quality rating from independent medical associations, such as Healthfinder.gov and FamilyDoctor.org. The latter site offers a variety of handouts about preventive test basics or newly diagnosed health conditions, including one that advises patients to ask themselves three questions about every health-related website they visit:
While Lin warns patients not to use online information to self-diagnose or treat a medical problem, he does believe that visitng a high-quality health website can help them make better-informed choices – so long as its in conjunction with a doctor’s care.