With a dizzying amount of medical information only a mouse click away, the Internet can make us all feel like we're experts. But is this a good thing when it comes to our health? We surveyed local doctors and found that careful online research can indeed be a key component to staying healthy. Here are a few important guidelines to follow to maximize the benefits of your next online search.
1) Consult Your Physician
These three words may sound timeworn, but they ring true even in the digital age. When you find information online, use it as a stepping stone. Read it, but also bring it in to discuss with your doctor so he or she can help you interpret it. "When people bring in information, I see it as an opportunity," says Jacob Prunuske, a family medicine specialist with UW Health. "It gives me a chance to manage their concerns as well as educate."
2) Check the Source
One of the easiest ways to get tripped up online is by trusting information that's either out of date or doesn't come from a reputable source. Again, your doctor can help you decipher what's valuable and what's not. "Ideas on how to manage health and health care are constantly evolving," says Prunuske. "Information has to be up to date."
3) Understand the Context
Often medical information is delivered in a dry, textbook format. In these instances your physician can help you fill in the necessary shades of gray. "Patients often don't have the background to interpret the results they find," says Kyle Holen, a cancer specialist with UW Health.
4) Don't Believe the Hype
The Internet is rife with too-good-to-be-true cures. What's worse, these sites are often designed specifically to prey on those who are scared and desperate. "Stay away from sites that ask for money," advises Holen, "And never spend money on unproven treatments."
5) Accreditation is Key
Sites that end in .org and .gov are always the safest and most reliable. They're usually associated with a national specialty organization or a governmental institution. "Dotcoms are commercial and for-profit, so you should at least question their motives for providing the information," says Alan Schwartzstein, a family medicine specialist with Dean Health System.
A few reputable sites to check out: