Ask a Doc: Reliable Online Medical Resources

January 19, 2017

Submitted by Michael R. Jordan, MD, MS-HQSM, FAAP, Chief of Pediatrics Newark-Wayne Community Hospital

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One of the more lasting images of the past week was President Elect Trump’s first press conference during which he refused to answer a question posed by a CNN reporter by stating, “You are fake news.”

 

It seems that more headlines and news reports appear to have a sensational political slant.  These posts, most commonly on social media, often present a biased interpretation.  The apparent justification for this one-sided version of truth is that fabrication and speculation are permissible when they support a particular cause, as if the means justify the ends.

 

Perhaps bias in reporting is nothing new.  I recall my father’s admonition that, “One should believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you read.”  My personal view is that before reading any article or news item first look to see the source before wasting time on propaganda.

 

So too, we should also scrutinize the source of online medical information. It is true that patients often search the Internet whenever a family member has a new diagnosis or medical condition.  Just like social media and news reporting, there are sources of medical information that are credible and those that have internal bias. 

 

So how do we-as consumers-get the best, most reliable medical information online?

The following are some suggested guidelines on finding unbiased, accurate, and timely medical information that help patients; chart their wellness course, understand their medical problems, and determine if their online resource is reliable

  • Look and see with if the sponsor of the information is an academic, government, or medical nonprofit organization.  These organizations usually produce valid information. 
  • Patients should use a search engine sponsored by the NIH or the CDC that provides results filtered for peer reviewed, non-commercial results rather than a generic search such as Google.
  • If your searches relate to medications, Consumer Reports is a good place to start.  They have a free site which features “Best Buy drugs”, http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/health/prescription-drugs/best-buy-drugs/index.htm
  • If you are searching for the latest information on newly-approved medications in clinical research, a website called  http://www.CenterWatch.com/drug-information lists clinical trials and can very up-to-date.
  • The best medical information websites can be found at http://www.cdc.gov .  The CDC is part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. It offers the latest information on many diseases, and is especially good with the latest recommendations for control and prevention of infectious diseases.  The CDC website is also available in Spanish and is regularly updated.
  •  For the advanced reader looking for the most recent developments, I recommend PubMed found at http:// www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/ .  This is a free access into the National Institute of Medicine’s database providing the latest in biomedical publications.
  • To uncover the “fraud, myths, fads and fallacies,” look no further than Dr. Stephen Barrett’s http://www.quackwatch.com

In the area of child health, there are some resources that I find helpful and that I recommend. But use caution-one must be careful to avoid websites that appear legitimate but promote a political bias usually aimed against contraception or vaccines.

  • The American Academy of pediatrics has a very comprehensive child health website called healthy children.org, http://www.healthychildren.org , especially useful is the site’s “Teen driving agreement”.
  • Mental, developmental, and behavioral problems are common concern affecting over 7 million youth in America.  The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry have many resources for families, particularly for understanding psychiatric medications and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; http://www.aacap.org.
  • For nutritional information and the best advice on diet and obesity, I highly recommend “super children nutrition.”  The site was founded by a registered dietitian. It promotes health information with nutritional support and teaches it all in an interactive way.  http://www.superkidsnutrition.com
  • The National Child Traumatic Stress Network found at  http://www.nctsn.org/  was established by Congress in the year 2000.  It provides information and resources for parents, teachers, and policy makers on the many emotional aspects associated with childhood trauma that are always a consequence after physical or sexual abuse.

Most of these sites are free and are easy to navigate.  The latest developments are usually published in reputable journals that “fact check” the data and conclusions of the author before they publish.  Be aware-even though a new discover appears in a medical journal, I recommend patients should not make important decisions based on one research study.  Remember that news stories focus on what is new, not necessarily what is totally accurate. So when in doubt, ask your medical provider about the Internet site where you obtained the information. Your physician can often give you an objective opinion on the validity and credibility of medical sources and websites.

A final word of caution when searching: the medical information overload can predispose you to hypochondria. Remember this old adage in medical education, “When one hears hoof beats, it’s likely to be from horses, not zebras.”

 

Michael Jordan, MD, MS-HQSM, CPE, FAAP, Chief of Pediatrics at Newark-Wayne Community Hospital is board-certified in Pediatric Medicine. He attended the College of Human Medicine at Michigan State University and completed his residency training at the University of Rochester. In addition to his leadership role as chief of Pediatrics at Newark-Wayne, he is the medical director of Rochester Regional Medical Group and is also chair of Rochester General Medical Group’s Quality Committee. He works in the Sodus Rochester General Medical Group Pediatric office. To send questions on children’s health, please email Wendy Fisher, Pediatric Practice Manager at wendy.fisher@rochestergeneral.org and write “Ask a Doc” in the subject line. To schedule an appointment, call 315-483-3214.