Your health and the Internet: what you should know

September 26, 2017

With today’s technology, we can learn about anything—any time—using devices that fit in the palms of our hands. And while “Googling” can be helpful in gathering information, there are things you should consider when looking for medical information online.

Seek out reliable health websites. The Internet can be a valuable resource, but it’s also full of reports, posts and websites that are inaccurate or misleading. To find the most reliable medical information, stick to websites curated by respected national organizations, hospitals and academic medical centers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, cdc.gov, is a recognized resource, as is familydoctor.org., which is sponsored by the American Academy of Family Physicians. One way to determine if a website is reliable is to take note of the number of advertisements that appear on the site. It’s best to avoid websites that display too many ads, which could signal editorial bias.

Understand the role of “community forums.” Health-related community forums often found on Facebook and other social networking sites are usually not approved or fact checked by doctors or medical experts. Typically, individuals post opinions and their personal experiences in forums, which should not be considered reliable medical information.

Confirm online findings with your primary care doctor. While it’s understandable to be curious about your health, especially if you are experiencing new symptoms, it’s important to talk with your doctor about information you find online. Symptoms can result from a variety of illnesses, conditions or circumstances, and your doctor is most qualified to assess your symptoms and provide a diagnosis. Knowing you and your medical history, your physician can determine if the information you find online is relevant to you.

Internet-based research is often most helpful after you’ve talked with your doctor about your situation. He or she can then direct you to reputable online resources to learn more about your condition and ways that you can effectively manage your health.

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