• Louvenia Ringuette, RN BSN

Don't Believe Everything You Read


Recently on The View the issue of credible sources of Internet information came up. Specifically they were talking about how so many people believe everything they read on Facebook, but this is so true for the whole Internet realm. The View was discussing fake news and the Russian placed election champagne ads, but this also a big issue regarding obtaining accurate medical information to help you make an informed decision about your healthcare.

It is estimated that millions of us search the Internet for medical advice everyday. ​

As I listened to The View segment, it made me think of many conversations I have had the providers office requesting the provider prescribe something new, or they would request an appointment to discuss new procedure they thought they needed based on what they had just read about on the Internet.

Other times it was during a visit the patient would challenge the provider on recommendations they made based on something someone, else maybe a friend or other person, had told them.

Many issues they brought up did not make sense. When patients were asked where they had gotten the information, the patient often times was unable to tell us what page or what source they had gotten the information from. It was usually a generic answer “…the internet, or Facebook.” Sometimes they would bring in printouts from the computer to show the providers what they wanted especially if they thought they might meet resistance from the provider.

Professionals have been writing about the concerns and benefits of medical information on the Internet for many years. Studies suggest that Internet medical information may potentially influence an individual’s decision making to change her or his health-seeking behavior. It can cause unnecessary anxiety, and unnecessary treatment or procedures and delay of treatment leading to advanced devastating effects including death.

In the guest blog post “Accuracy of Medical Information on the Internet” written by Jalees Rehman, a German scientist and physician, in 2012, noted that skills for navigating our way in the digital information jungle were not usually taught. He went on to say that when it came to medical information misinformation could have a major detrimental impact on our well-being. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/accuracy-of-medical-information-on-the-internet/

He discussed one Internet study entitled “Safe Infant Sleep Recommendation on the Internet: Let’s Google It” by Dr. Rachel Moon and colleagues (published in the Journal of Pediatrics 08/02/12) addressed the question of the accuracy of Internet medical information by focusing on an Internet search for sleep safety for infants.

After entering key medically related search terms, they reviewed 1300 websites for medical information accuracy on sleep safety in infants. They found less than 50% (43.5%) of the 1300 websites were in line with American Academy of Pediatrics(AAP) published guidelines written to reduce the risk of sudden infant death (SIDS). They also found 28.1% contained inadequate information, and 28.4 % of websites were not medically relevant.

They found depending on the words used to search for results played a big part in the information they received. Around 19% of the searches took them to websites of associated with specific companies or interest groups. The product review retail sites were noted to have the lowest medical accuracy rate at 8.5%. Government websites and websites of national organization (those with URL ending of .org) had the highest level of accuracy of 80.9% to 72.5%.

Certain key phrases or search terms often lead people to websites that promoted certain products or treatments without taking the medical evidence and professional guidelines into account. To read the complete blog post clink here.

This study did not include examples of evidence of harm, where as other studies have. In the next blog post I will discuss harm caused by believing everything you read on the Internet. The above study however, is a good reminder that healthcare providers must do more to educate our patients on which websites are the best for their medical research needs.

Join me for my next blog post where we will look at the benefits, and the harm caused by inaccurate information and self-diagnoses based on information found on the Internet. Future blogs will also include how to obtain safe credible medical information by using safe website links. I will also cover how healthcare providers can help the patient get the information they need and want.


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