Online Health Advice, Don't Believe Everything You Read
Record numbers of people around the world turn to the Internet for online health advice, but should they believe everything they read? A new survey suggests many people are getting inaccurate information and are not checking up on their sources.
Always check sources of online health info
The Bupa Health Pulse 2010 International Healthcare survey questioned 12,262 people from 12 different countries, including Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Spain, United Kingdom, and the United States between June 10 and July 14, 2010.
The main reason people use the Internet for health purposes is to find information about medications (68%). Nearly half (46%) of people surveyed said they are self-diagnosing, and 39 percent reported they were looking for other patients’ experiences. Eighteen percent of all respondents to the survey said they used social networking sites to learn about healthcare issues.
Few people, however, are checking the accuracy or source of the health information they find. Among online searchers in Britain, for example, while 58 percent looked for information to self-diagnose, only 25 percent took the time to check where the information came from.
The survey also found that people searching for health information on the Internet will likely find many different potential health conditions to match their complaints, depending on which websites they visit. The range of suggested health ailments for the same symptom can range widely; for example, a search for the symptom stomach cramps was diagnosed as being a symptom of angina, indigestion, or appendicitis, depending on the website.
In a recent survey published in Birth, 613 pregnant women who used the Internet to look for pregnancy-related information said they went online because they were not satisfied with the quality of information given to them by their healthcare providers. Eight-three percent said they used the information they found to influence their pregnancy healthcare options.
While the Bupa survey found that most of the top 20 healthcare websites people use to find health information are geared toward the scientific and academic communities and are based in the United States, online health information seekers should always check the sources of the information they find.
The Bupa report suggests individuals be as specific as possible when entering search terms, check each website for a quality mark (e.g., HONcode, URAC), read the “About Us” section on the website to find out if the authors are health professionals, and look for the date of publication, because medical advice can be out of date very quickly. Finally, individuals should consult with their physician before taking any action based on what they find on the Internet.
The bottom line is, don’t believe everything you read on the Internet. When searching for online health advice, use reliable (e.g., academic, government, scientific institutions) websites, check your sources, including references to scientific articles on the website, and protect your health.
Bupa Health Pulse 2010 International Healthcare Survey
Lagan BM et al. Birth 2010 Jun; 37(2): 106-15