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How to evaluate online medical information
Aug 14, 2018

How to evaluate online medical information

When Charity Crosby was diagnosed with breast cancer, she wanted to be informed and learn as much as she could about her diagnosis and treatment options. The more Charity thought about it, the more she realized that online information might not help her at all.

“I thought I would go online and research chemo, surgeries, mastectomies, lumpectomies, radiation. But I decided not to googled any of it,” the Eugene real estate agent says. “There’s just so much stuff out there on the internet, it can scare the crud out of you.”

Dr. Keith Wells, a medical oncologist with Willamette Valley Cancer Institute’s Corvallis clinic says the internet is a double-edged sword.

“There are wonderful resources online, but there’s also the flipside to that,” he says. “There are sites that don’t have great information, or they offer some false information. It’s all available with just the click of a button.”

Evaluating online information
When looking for valid cancer-related information on the internet, consider the following:

  • What is the source: Who’s behind the information? Check out the site’s “About us” page. Are they health professionals? What are their credentials?
  • Is it credible: Is the information based on research findings published in reputable medical journals? Are there citations in the text that allow you to verify those findings?
  • Is it objective: Is the information complete and unbiased, unless otherwise labeled?
  • Is it current: Is the information up to date? Beware of undated content or broken links.

In addition, Dr. Wells says be careful of information gathered from website discussions or chat rooms.

“It’s human nature that when something bad happens, we want to share it with other people,” he says. “So, oftentimes, we see the bad things on those discussion boards, but we don’t always see the normal things or the good things.”

That’s why Charity has been very selective about where she gets information about her type of cancer.

“Every person is different,” she says. “I know people who are having the exact same treatment I am and yet, their bodies are doing something completely different than mine. You just can’t compare yourself.”

Talk with your health care team
Reputable sites for information for information about cancer include:

Remember that information found on the internet should never take the place of medical advice. Anyone with a health-related problem should talk to a doctor who can offer advice that’s tailored to the patient’s own health history and unique medical situation.