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The 'Net: A Tangled Web of Health Information
Date:4/24/2008

oward using their own medicines," Powell said.

Powell also recommends that you double-check when the information was last updated. "Information is constantly changing in the health industry," he said. "You want to make sure it's accurate and up-to-date."

For example, a Web site recommending the use of ipecac to prompt vomiting after someone has ingested poison is running counter to the latest advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recently advised against it, Powell noted. And the guidelines for judging high blood pressure also were revised recently, and someone relying on outdated information could be in trouble and not know it.

The American Academy of Family Physicians provides a quick checklist that can help determine a site's value:

  • Who wrote the information? Health-related Web sites often post information from other sources, and those original sources should be clearly stated.
  • If a health-care professional didn't write the information, was it reviewed by a doctor or medical expert?
  • If the information contains any statistics, do the numbers come from a reliable source?
  • Does something on the Web site appear to be opinion rather than fact? If so, is the opinion from a qualified person or organization?

As a final test, King recommends taking yourself off-line to discuss what you've learned with your own doctor.

"Before you act on anything, bring it to your physician to look it over," he said. "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."

King has seen the impact of the Internet's health information on his own practice, and it's generally been positive.

"It helps educate my patients and direct their questions," he said. "Under the constraints we have now, we [doctors] can't spend as much time with patients a
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