I am enormously frustrated when I speak with people, aging adults or otherwise, who go online seeking medical information without using effective search and evaluation skills.
In this day and age, the most important web task for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren, is to learn how to evaluate the information we find on the web (helpful site at UC Berkeley Library). The Johns Hopkins University Library also has a site that describes how to evaluate web information. Developing the skills to find accurate and reliable Internet information is good for you, your health, your family, and even your brain.
It is critical to understand that almost any fact we seek, true or false, is posted somewhere out there on the web. Any personal opinion — attributed or anonymous, hateful or disgusting — is a click away, and many people and web sites represent themselves deceptively.
A multitude of unproductive medical “help” web sites encourage people to rate doctors, discuss hospitals, describe side effects, or just rant — but with few ground rules, guidelines, or editorial policies. Yet, buried in this mega-medical information web world is accurate and helpful information, useful content that was not available before the Internet and Web came to be our primary communication tool. This information can help us become educated consumers of medical services.
Caution and skill are important, according to a 2006 article in the Las Vegas Review Journal. Many physicians agree. The American Academy of Family Physicians even has a section on their web site dedicated to frustration-free searching for accurate and reliable web information.
Frustration is exactly what I feel when I begin a general search, often starting with a few medical terms in Google, and quickly getting entangled in a maze of useless sites. I am even more irritated when my aging parents go out hunting for information because half of what they find is misleading.
If you do not have time to refine and hone your searching skills, avoid making a general Google search using a specific medical term or concept. Instead seek out portals such as the American Family Physicians site. Another good alternative (where you can avoid the medical information site “riff-raff”) is the Medical Library Association (MLA). This organization has evaluated and vetted sites that medical librarians consider to be top-notch (For Health Consumers: Top 10 Most Useful Websites).