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How to Know if Online Medical Information is Reliable

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How to Know if Online Medical Information is Reliable

While the internet is filled with useful information, it is also filled with a lot of misinformation, and it can be hard to know what you can trust. While getting your medical information straight from your doctor or health-care professional is the best way to ensure you are getting the most correct advice, we know that this not always possible. The Medical Station wants to help you become a more responsible, conscious patient so you know where to turn if you have a medical question.

Search Reliable Websites as Opposed to General Search Engines

The Canadian Public Health Association wants to remind people that the internet is not regulated, meaning anyone can post whatever they want, whether it is true or not.  As a general rule, articles written by medical organizations, non-profit educational websites and government agencies that back up their information using scientific evidence are the best for finding medical information. You should also highly consider who has written the information and their qualifications for giving medical advice. Here are some of the websites Dr. Naiman, Family Physician as well as Medical Director and Founder of The Medical Station, trusts:

You can also access more specific medical resources on The Medical Station website under “Patient Information”.

Look at the Research

When you read something online, it is up to you to be a skeptic. Many websites and articles make grand claims about what research has shown. But, how do we know that this is actually true. In reality, there are websites that twist the results of scientific studies so they sound appealing and make you click on their site. If you want to know the validity of a research article you can ask the following questions:

  • What was the conclusion of the article and does it match what you read on the original website?
  • Was the research performed on animals or humans? (Remember, just because something was shown in animals does not make it true for human beings)
  • Does the research compare something to a “control” or “placebo” group
  • Does the article mention that the results are “statistically significant” (a statistics term meaning that what was observed was very unlikely to have happened by chance)?

If you find it difficult to understand these articles, contact a medical professional or someone with good scientific knowledge to help you out. The abstract of an article is also a great tool for understanding the gist of an article without going through all the specific details.

Make Sure the Information is Current

One thing that never changes about medicine is that things are always changing. This means that while you may have found a completely credible source of information, the actual medical advice may be outdated. While it may seem like this is not a big deal, medical information can actually change fairly drastically in the span of a few years. When looking at websites, be sure that the information, in addition to any cited research articles, are no more than three years old. If you find they are, try adding the current year to your search terms and you’ll likely find more recent data.

What is the Purpose of the Published Information?

Something important to keep in mind while reading medical information online is: What is the purpose of this article? Reliable information should be unbiased, clear and present all sides of an argument. If the article was published in order to persuade you to buy a product or join something, it is likely not very dependable. Also, if you click a site that has a lot of pop-ups or advertisements, you may have fallen for “click bait” which uses tempting titles to get you to go on their site so they can reap financial benefit.

Leave Most of it to the Professionals

While it is true that you can obtain a lot of credible, useful medical information online, in many cases it is in your best interest to go see physician or go to the emergency room if you have questions or concerns. Some important examples of when to contact a medical professional include: If you have a medical disorder and notice a new symptom, if you think you need medication and if you need a medical diagnosis.

The Internet can be a beneficial but tricky resource to navigate when it comes to finding useful, accurate medical information and The Medical Station hopes our tips help you differentiate what is true and what is false. If you have a question and are unsure if you should book an appointment, call us at 416-633-2345 and we will help you to the best of our ability.

This article was written by Hailey Adler, one of our Summer Administrative Interns. Hailey received a BSc. from the University of Guelph and is attending Queen’s University for a Masters of Anatomical Sciences. She is passionate about all things medical related as well as nutrition and cancer research.

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