Healthcare Technology Featured Article

July 12, 2012

The Misinformation Age: When Online Health is no Longer Healthy

Today’s information age has seen the Internet explode with communities of data and discussion. We know everything. Where there’s a space to write, there’s a writer to fill it. Where there’s an unused URL, there’s a programmer to use it. And you can bet there are tons of both.

But what makes information so accessible is exactly what makes it so dangerous. Sure, sites like Wikipedia have proven their reliability in their terms of citation, but the ones who haven’t lack the legitimacy that is absolutely critical, if not anywhere else, in the medical industry.

Google, Bing, Yahoo, Ask, Dogpile, MSN and dozens more rev their search engines for millions every day allowing them to expose themselves to and freak out from the most inaccurate, subjective crap in all of cyberspace. And who wouldn’t, when buying what CrocDoc17 said on some health forum is always cheaper than a $40 co-pay and appointment with a professional? This is an epidemic no one doctor can contain.

Those in the healthcare industry rightfully suggest online self-help tools are taking customers away from real facilities and clinics – what used to be the only place to which people could turn when they sought medical attention. But the sites worth listening to are surely not common enough to make a dent in the typical orthopedist's business.

Those whose conditions allow a website to suffice should therefore know when one is legit. Here’s an example:

When you have a weird sore on your hand, Yahoo Answers isn’t your best bet for what it is, but it’s unfortunately one of the first hits when you lay down a search term. Not only is it unreliable, but it can drive you crazy, when the “Best Answer” to your question is from a poster who explains how he saw the “same” sore on his hand last year and had his arm amputated the following week. Same goes for most other medical forums. All others: If the URL address is too long to remember, it’s usually not worth your time.

WebMD, on the other hand, is a classic, operated by an editorial team, several of whose members represent the website's credibility with doctorates from respected medical schools across the country. From allergies to more serious physiological problems, gives you a network of content, compounded with illnesses’ symptoms, versions and treatment from sources that have informed professionals for years. – For those whose ailments are athletic, one more for the road. Otherwise, take advantage of the personal touch an actual doctor gives you, as digital health only takes you so far. Chances are a solid article online will refer you to your local practitioner anyway. 

Information is valuable, but having it at your fingertips at all times is dangerous if you don’t know when to ignore it.

Edited by Rich Steeves

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