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Slide Notes

Online Health Information

Published at Apr 22, 2016

How to Find, Access and Understand Online Health Information: And how to communicate what you find to your health care professional.


Online Health Information

Finding, Accessing, Understanding & Communicating
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Increasingly, people are getting their health information not from their doctors, but from magazines, TV or the Internet. Some of the information is reliable and up to date; some is not. How can you tell the good from the bad?

Facts about Health - Lingo.

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What is Evidence-Based Medicine?

  • "...the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients. ... [It] means integrating individual clinical expertise with the best available external clinical evidence from systematic research." Sackett 1996
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What do you mean by "Scientific"

  • Scientific, in this case, means both proven, and non-biased. Think about if you are being encouraged to buy a certain product or service? Many of companies sometimes include false scientific claims in order to encourage you to purchase their product.
  • What do we mean when we say "scientific?

What is Health Literacy

  • It is specific to a person's ability to read, understand, communicate and use information related to health.
  • Health literacy is not your ability to read, or understand in a normal setting
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Facts about the internet

  • You can't (always) trust statistics.
  • People lie.
  • No professional qualifications are necessary
  • Nobody is in charge.
  • There are no rules or regulations
  • Personal experience is very different than evidence-based.
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Untitled Slide

  • .com identifies commercial websites
  • .ca means the website is Canadian
  • .gov identifies a U.S. government agency
  • .edu identifies education websites, like a university
  • .org usually identifies nonprofit organizations
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ABC's of information: Accuracy Authority Bias Comprehension Currency

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First, consider the source: Is it from the government? A university, health organization, hospital, business, personal website?

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Look for an Author. Does the author have credentials? Google the author to see if they are who they say they are. Is there a review process for posting on the website?

Look for a published date. You want something current, and ideally updated.

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Is your privacy protected? Is there a privacy policy? Do they ask you for personal information?

NEVER share your SIN, Address or phone number online, unless it is with a secure government organization. Some patient websites have places for you to talk about your health, but they should allow you to be anonymous.
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Is there a clear way to reach the sponsor - About us, contact us?

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The Health On the Net Foundation has elaborated the Code of Conduct to help standardize the reliability of medical and health information available on the Internet.

Look for websites that have the Hon Code - usually at the bottom of the page. It's a governing body that gives guidance http://www.hon.ch/HONcode/Patients/.

As they say:

"The HONcode is not an award system, nor does it intend to rate the quality of the information provided by a Web site. It only defines a set of rules to:
- hold Web site developers to basic ethical standards in the presentation of information;
- help make sure readers always know the source and the purpose of the data they are reading."

Good rules of thumb

  • Make sure information is less than 3 years old
  • Don't search the entire internet. Choose 3-5 sites and stop.
  • Evaluate for content - constantly.
  • Look for credentials

Be skeptical. Things that sound too good to be true often are. You want current, unbiased information based on research.

Guiding Principles

  • Hospital websites are also a good thing to use.
  • Large Professional bodies are also good
  • Government Websites are a good place to start
  • Use the Rule of 3
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Good Websites

  • National Institute of Health
  • Patients like me
  • Drugs.com
  • Medline Plus
  • Cleveland Clinic
  • Mayo Clinic

How do you solve a problem like Wikipedia?

Wikipedia probably has more accurate information than you think, and is often good with updating. The PROBLEM with wikipedia is it is not written for a lay-audience, and is not written in a clear and understandable way.

90% of medical students use Wikipedia, and often it's written for that audience.


  • Be cautious when someone is trying to sell you something - anything.
  • Be Aware that personal experiences are just that - personal.
  • Watch out for Dr. Oz & other predatory Doctors. They may be experts in their field, but they aren't in every field.
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  • Natural doesn't mean healthy.
  • The same treatment can work differently for everyone
  • Big words are just that - Big Words. They don't mean there is proof.
  • Don't just look for information that agrees with what you think.
  • Think before you act.
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How to talk to your doctor

First, ask yourself about a new Cure:

  • Was it done in a double blind randomized control trial?
  • Where was this cure tested? People? Animals? In a lab?
  • Does it cure you? Miraculously?
  • Are the reports in line with things you have heard before, in other places.
  • How many people like you was it tested on?
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  • Be Honest. Really.
  • Ask more than one Health Care Professional.
  • Tell them Everything.
  • Print off the website you have questions about, with questions.
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Write down questions, and ask them.

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Bring someone with you.

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Take notes - this will help you with questions next time.

Learn about your medical records - ask for them if you want.

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Don't ever be embarrassed.

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Don't assume the doctor, pharmacist or nurse remembers anything (but I promise they try!)

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In conclusion...

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You might have to talk to different people. Pharmacists & Nurses are great resources.

Please do not ask a librarian.

Speaking as a Librarian - Most librarians don't have the knowledge, clinical or otherwise to answer your questions.
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Despite everything, don't be scared to look, and try.

Don't be afraid to walk away, and then come back.

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