Getting Health Care Info On The Web - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News


Getting Health Care Info On The Web

Medical information is just a click away. But how accurate is it?

In a new study just released by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a whopping 80 percent of American Internet users say they have searched the Web for answers to their health questions. That translates to some 113 million users.

But of that number, just 15 percent say they "always" check the source and date of the health information they find online.

"Most people are starting with a search engine," says Susannah Fox, associate director of the Pew Project. "So they're trusting Dr. Google essentially to give them a second opinion."

Fox adds the date and source of the articles found in those searches are "the two most important quality indicators of health information."

But checking the date isn't always easy. A recent federal government study found only 4 percent of popular health sites put a date on their information. And in the fast- changing world of medical information, that date could be crucial.

For instance, hormone replacement therapy pre-2002 was considered safe, but after that year, researchers found that HRT carried major health implications.

The Pew project found that 74 percent of people say they felt confident and "reassured" that they could make appropriate health care decisions after their last search. And the majority say that as a result of their searches, they would likely raise new questions with their doctors.

"People are really finding what they need," Fox says.

But one doctor ABC News talked to who asked not to be quoted called online health information "sometimes flawed" and says that "patients often get confused between legitimate Internet reporting and what is effectively advertising of services."

Another interesting finding of the Pew research is that half of the searches on the Internet are done on behalf of someone else.

"So now, instead of bringing just flowers or a meal to someone, you also bring the gift of information to their bedside," Fox says.

The amount of medical information on the Web is enormous, but those people who go online were able to narrow their search queries enough so that only 25 percent say they felt overwhelmed.

Fox says more and more people are using search engines for so many aspects of their lives - such as finding movie show times or directions to a theater - and health has become another one.

The Medical Library Association urges people to not only check the date of the material they find but to use more than one Web source. For best results tailored to your medical problem, ask your doctor or medical librarian to recommend a set of bookmarks on the Web, instead of relying exclusively on "Dr. Google."


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