Be a Wise Internet Health Consumer
< Feb. 13, 2008 > -- February is Wise Health Consumer Month, a great time to look at how the consumer makes healthy lifestyle choices and ensures consumer information is accurate and appropriate. But how can you evaluate the overwhelming amount of health information that floods the Web?
"There's a lot of quackery on the Web," says Don Powell, president and CEO of the American Institute for Preventive Medicine. "There's a lot of bias on the Web. The Web is just wrought with misinformation and badly dated information."
Take Online Content with a Grain of Salt
Company or individually maintained Web sites can contain some good advice, but health consumers need to look with a more critical eye when using those sites, says Dr. Jim King, a family practice physician and president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
First, ask yourself who is paying for the information you are seeing. The ads supporting a site may indicate a possible bias, Dr. King says. "It may be skewed one way or the other, based on their advertisements," he says.
The owner of a site can also influence its content. For example, is a pharmaceutical company presenting the information? "Clearly, there's a bias there toward using their own medicines," Powell says.
Powell also recommends that you check when the information was last updated. "Information is constantly changing in the health industry," he says. "You want to make sure it's accurate and up-to-date."
For example, a Web site recommending the use of ipecac to cause vomiting after someone has taken poison does not give the latest advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). They recently advised against it, Powell notes.
Talk to Your Physician
Above all, Dr. King recommends discussing what you have learned online with your doctor. "Before you act on anything, bring it to your physician to look it over," he says. "You can educate your doctor about pages that have good data, and they have a chance to say, 'No, this isn't really accurate.' You can learn from each other."
Dr. King has witnessed the impact of the internet's health information on his own practice, and feels its effect has generally been positive.
"It helps educate my patients and direct their questions," he says. "Under the constraints we have now, we [physicians] can't spend as much time with patients as we used to. This way, they can come in well-educated and ready to discuss their condition. At the end of the visit, I might also refer them to a Web site for more information."
Powell lists several ways that medical Web sites provide help: helping consumers decide when they need to see a doctor; giving them information on selecting the right physician; showing them how to evaluate the treatment they receive; providing questions to ask about an invasive procedure or surgery.
When all is said and done, however, Dr. King says, your physician is always going to be able to provide the best assessment of your health.
"I think the computer and the Internet is an excellent tool," he says. "But that's all it is. It doesn't take the place of the relationship between the physician and the patient. Don't think this can become a replacement for your healthcare provider."
Always consult your physician for more information.
(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)
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Caution: Buying Medication Online Can "Sting"
More and more consumers are lured online to buy their medications at a cheaper rate than retail pharmacies. This may not be such a smart solution.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers this advice for consumers who want to use the Internet to purchase prescription drugs and other medicine.
The growth of the Internet has made it possible to comparison shop and buy products without ever leaving home. But when it comes to buying medicine online, it is important to be extremely careful. Some Web sites sell medication that may not be safe and could put your health at risk.
Some Web sites that sell medicine:
Some Web sites sell medications:
Talk with your physician and have a physical exam before you purchase any new medication for the first time.
Use only medication that has been prescribed by your physician or another trusted professional who is licensed in the US to write prescriptions.
Ask your physician if there are any special steps you need to take to fill your prescription.
Know your source to make sure it is safe.
Make sure a Web site is a state-licensed pharmacy that is located in the US. Pharmacies and pharmacists in the US are licensed by a state's board of pharmacy. Your state board of pharmacy can tell you if a Web site is a state-licensed pharmacy, is in good standing, and is located in the United States.
Find a list of state boards of pharmacy on the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) Web site.
Be sure your privacy is protected. Look for privacy and security policies that are easy-to-find and understandable. Do not give any personal information (such as your social security number, credit card, or medical or health history), unless you are sure the Web site will keep your information private. Make sure that the site will not sell your information, unless you give your permission.
Always consult your physician for more information.