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  • Carol Braverman

Finding Reliable Medical Information Online

Finding reliable medical information online is as simple as bookmarking the suggestions in this article. These are trustworthy sites with information that you can “take to the bank.” You’ll also find an outline of the different levels of research so when you land on something promising you can quickly discern whether or not it’s a reliable study.

Don't blindly follow any information you read online.

No doubt you’ve had the experience of going to your doctor for some issue that isn’t getting better on it’s own. Your doctor does the intake asking you a lot of questions, maybe orders tests and does a physical exam. This results in a diagnosis, at which time he or she may suggest medical  interventions, surgery or medications. You have time to consider options, so the natural impulse is to go online and research your condition. Here’s where I want to say that not all medical information is reliable, and a scattershot approach can be lead you in the wrong direction.

I wrote this post as a nutshell guide to orienting yourself when the need arises. At Mountaintop Acupuncture we’re big proponents of the proactive approach to  health. With a little research, you’ll be able to make clearer decisions. The operative word here is “reliable.”

Getting information on a condition

  1. helps us understand how the problem may have arisen

  2. learns what the common tests and treatment options are

  3. gives us some terminology to improve communication with healthcare professionals, to achieve our goals of recovery and relief

We recommend the following sites, because they provide information that is based on quality scientific research.

Basic Level Medline Plus: overview of common symptoms, treatment options, management strategies of many medical conditions.

Mayo Clinic: a little more detail, stated differently, which allows you to compare and contrast the basic information, helping you orient yourself and deepen your understanding.

Intermediate Level Cochrane Reviews: meta-analyses of published studies.

British Medical Journal: published studies.

Complex Level PubMed: abstracts of published studies.

Minimizing Bias Research studies of the highest quality are based on standards that seek to minimize bias when collecting data and analyzing it. Quality studies are the polar opposite of “he said, she said.”

Studies must meet the following criteria in order for money and time to be invested:

  1. Outline the objective, method, and design of the study, with a complete review of related literature published to date.

  2. Be affiliated with institutions that provide the ethical and scientific checks and balances, to ensure minimum bias and error.

There are many types of studies:

  1. The Randomly Controlled Trial is the research study gold standard in medicine. The RCT gathers information through a rigorous process that mathematically must have minimum bias and error built into its design. The RCT uses human subjects to find out the usefulness of healthcare practices. Built into it is the idea of chance: do some people get better because of other factors, or is the drug/device/protocol/healthcare practice of significant benefit?

  2. The Large Prospective Study is also highly regarded, because it measures outcomes in the same participants, over a long period of time. Large Prospective Studies provide an opportunity to collect and analyze related data, often resulting in unexpected, useful findings. An example of this is the Women’s Health Initiative, which collected data for 12 years, from 1992-2004, from a large sampling of women. One arm of the study followed breast cancer incidence and hormone replacement therapy, ultimately leading the scientific community to agree to change methodologies in treatment of menopausal women.

  3. The Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses look at all the studies that have been done on a given subject, to verify the findings of current research, including acknowledgement of weaknesses or shortfalls in the conclusions.

Not all studies are equal, so when you find a favorable study on your subject of interest, it is important to assess several factors: the who, what, where, and why of it. For example, how many participants are in the study, what method to measure and collect data, what type of research design did they use, are the authors well-respected in their field, what institution is involved, and what journal is it published in.


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