This week we continue our series on our New Year's resolution: Becoming a more empowered patient! This step provides some guidelines to help make the most of our information-gathering.
Step 2: Research!
One of the first things any of us do when we encounter illness is to Google it. A study showed that one in three (35%) American adults have used the Internet to "diagnose" a medical condition. Even our doctors warn us not to research "too much." It's not that they don't want us to be informed; it's just that the Internet is full of every kind of information, from baseless opinion to peer-reviewed data alongside an entire spectrum of possible diagnoses, prognosis, and symptoms. We have to be careful about our research and approach it more strategically..
As you know, not all web sites or health resources are created equal. Start your research at well-established health information sites, such as those affiliated with major universities, health systems, or state/national health departments. The National Library of Medicine has the following suggestions for evaluating the quality of a health website:
- Look for an "About Us" section to see if it is run by a government agency, university, health organization, hospital, or for-profit business.
- See if the website has an editorial board. This board would be responsible for the accuracy of the printed information. They may also serve as reviewers, giving approval based a set criteria before material is published.
- Are the articles cited with current, reputable research? Look for citations of published data in medical journals.
Suggested Sites for Health Research
- National Institues of Health
- Mayo Clinic
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Then you can branch out to include blogs or personal story sites, but just read it all with a grain of salt.
What do you do if you read about a new treatment, and alternative treatment, or a differing opinion about your condition?
- Print it out and bring it to your doctor. Ask about it.
- Contact the author and ask questions.
- Seek out a second opinion.
Even if the answer is not what you want to hear, more information is better. Remember, knowledge is power. We need to know, so that we can ask and advocate for ourselves more effectively.
Tune in next week for Step 3: Action!
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in January 2015 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy and comprehensiveness.