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Q: Can I trust the Internet for health information?

Posted February 12, 2014 in Advice Column, Norwalk

A: Many times patients will come into the clinic stating they have found information on their medical condition on the Internet. Getting good health information is the key to making good health decisions, and where we get that information from is equally important in this process.

As a source of health information, the Internet has two major drawbacks. First, there is little to no regulation of what gets published.  Misleading, contradictory, inaccurate and even fraudulent health information is all over the Internet. Second, the amount of information available on the Internet can make your search overwhelming and time-consuming. With so much information out there, how do you separate the good from the bad?

Don’t rely on search engines. Instead, go to trusted sources recommended by your health professional. Don’t trust the information on the health website unless the site clearly indicates who wrote it, when the information was last updated and what sources and references the information is based on. If this information is missing, be skeptical of the site’s reliability.

Check the site’s privacy policy. It should tell you your personal information will not be given to any third party without your explicit permission.

Check the site ownership or sponsorship.

Watch out for these clues that a web site is of questionable quality: Heavy use of personal testimonies without references to good research, unsupported claims of a “secret” or “revolutionary” cure, promotion of a specific drug, dietary supplement, medical device or other products and requirement of a financial investment.

Never make a health care decision based solely on what you read on the Internet.

Information provided by “HealthWise Handbook,” submitted by Ronda Montgomery, UnityPoint Clinic, 801 Colonial Circle, Norwalk, 285-3200.

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