The internet is a massive resource for health information, but, it’s also the most easily edited and the least policed. Anyone can publish a “scientific study” or “scholarly journal article” online.
In fact, you could probably search for and diagnose your symptoms with google and then figure out how to operate using youtube. (We don’t recommend that by the way).
Before you fall into the overwhelming wealth of information make sure you can answer these four questions:
- Why are you searching?
Are you looking for facts or opinions? Information to help make your medical decision or just a familiar story to relate with?
- Is your source credible?
The importance of credibility ties into the first question of why you’re searching for medical information. If you’re looking for medical treatment options then you will most certainly want to make sure the information you are reading comes from a reputable institution. If you’re looking for others who may share a story similar to yours you may care less about where the information originates from, that is up to you to decide.
Consider: The American Cancer Society, The American Cancer Institute of Research, National Cancer Institute and The American Association for Cancer Research.
- When was the study/story published?
In the medical field, especially specific to cancer, it seems as though news is continually changing/growing. If you are referencing a source from the 1970s you may be setting yourself up for “old information.” Be sure to check the date the study was published and if any follow-up studies have been done.
- Are you comparing “apples to apples”?
If you are reading an article about a new study that found success with a particular treatment make sure that the patients included in the study have your “specific type of cancer.” For more information see Dr. Whitten's recent post on "The Pathologist's role in cancer diagnosis and care".
Remember, you are your biggest patient advocate. If you find something online that you’re curious about, talk with your doctor.