Health Information in the Internet: Can it Be Hazardous to Your Health?
Today, what information can consumers not find on the internet? With the launch of WikiLeaks, even classified documents can now be accessed by the curious. Health information is no exception. Many have searched the internet to find out why that headache, stomach ache, back ache, lump or bump, pain, etc. just would not go away. After conducting research online many self-diagnose and self-treat. The Kaiser Family Foundation did a survey in 2005 of 1,450 adults age 50 and older regarding use of the internet for health information. The study concluded that many consumers base their healthcare decisions and actions on health information online.
Looking up health information online is not just for the sick but it has also become a popular online activity in all age groups. The Department of Health and Human Services stated that in 2004 one half of internet users used the web for health information. In 2005, 95 million Americans used the internet for information on an ailment or a specific disease. Some of the earliest health-related websites have been launched by the government.
There are many reasons patients turn to the internet for health information. Speediness, convenience and accessibility of getting health information online are its major advantage. In addition, the internet provides privacy for consumers to search for health information they might not feel comfortable bringing up with their healthcare provider. While there are significant advantages to using the internet for health information, it is not without risks. Consumers do not always check the credibility and quality of health information that is at their fingertips. Many web sites provide inaccurate and even dangerous information. There are steps that individuals can take to be sure they have credible information. Consumers should check to see if it is a government website such as the FDA, CDC or from a reputable organization such as the American Cancer Society. Web sites that end in “.gov,”“.edu” or “.org” are usually the most credible. Patients should try to avoid websites that end in “.com” because anyone can have their own website and the motives of the company as well as the accuracy of the information are questionable. Also there should be contact information and that the organization’s logo appears everywhere in the site. It is important that consumers discuss their internet findings with their primary physicians and ask questions regarding unclear information they may find. Patients may think they might be ridiculed for even bringing up online health information with their physicians but they should ask anyway because it does pertain to their health.
All in all, the credibility; accessibility to everyone regardless of socioeconomic status, and quality of health information in the internet is important in protecting consumers who increasingly are utilizing different ways in accessing health information online.