By: Ben Wiebe, NP
Have you even been sitting at home worrying about your health? Sore throat that won’t go away? Stomach pain and fever? A news report about something you thought was healthy is now bad for you? What’s your first instinct? For many of us it’s the internet. There’s lots of information at our finger tips with a quick search on our favorite search engine. How do we know what we read is really accurate? We all have a desire to be more informed and involved in our health and are searching for answers. I hope this article helps you begin to evaluate the information you come across online.
To start to evaluate on-line health information, we need to understand some types of research.
- Observational Studies. Perhaps the familiar would be a case study. A particular event/group is chosen and observed for certain outcomes. Some of these findings can be quite valuable but a main drawback is that we can’t always generalize the results to a larger general population. What is true in a case study may not be true for everyone.
- Experimental Studies. These are the clinical trials, used to research new medications and treatments. They tend to be set up in ways where we are more confident that the medication or treatment was the actual cause of the benefit, or in some cases, harm. Using techniques such as treatment and control groups where one group receives the treatment and the other group doesn’t. Often participants are randomly assigned to one or the other group so that they are equal in their characteristics. Researchers are also often “blinded” as to which group the participants belong not knowing who got the treatment, only looking at the outcome. This increases their ability to determine benefit or harm with a specific treatment or medication.
Many research studies have an amazing ability to answer important health questions but not all information online comes from these types of studies. Information is presented in personal blogs, posted on social media, and (sarcasm alert!) there may even be one or two propaganda websites with hidden agendas, stating claims with little or no evidence to support them. News reports, though showing us the Jets highlights and accurately forecasting the weather, may not always present everything in an unbiased way. Not all of this is bad though. Personal blogs and social media groups can be good for people to connect with others with similar health concerns. We just have to be aware of what type of information we are reading.
So where do we look on-line for accurate health information? Depending on your question, here are some websites to start with:
www.mayoclinic.org (Mayo Clinic)- great info on everything
www.cps.ca (Canadian Pediatric Society)- stuff for children/parents
www.heretohelp.ca -great for mental health questions
If you come across something that doesn’t make sense, please discuss this with your health care provider. Doctors, Nurse Practitioners, Registered Nurses, Pharmacists and other health care professionals are ready to answer your questions. We can’t believe everything we read or hear but together we can make sense of all the info in cyberspace.
Benjamin Wiebe is a Nurse Practitioner who has a practice at the CW Wiebe Medical Centre in Winkler. Nurse Practitioners are nurses who have taken extra education and training that allows them to diagnose and treat both chronic and acute illness, prescribe medications, order lab and imaging tests, and refer to specialists in order to care for you and your family’s health care needs.