CONSUMER HEALTH: Doctors Warn Patients to Be Wary of Web Sites
Doctors across the country are warning patients that not all consumer health Web sites dispense reliable medical information and that patients must be wary of what they read, according to an article in American Medical News. "Anybody can put something on the Internet," one doctor warned, while another pointed out that Web sites are capable of giving out "very wacky advice." For example, one alternative health site recommended eating 10 pounds of red rice a day to lower cholesterol. Physicians are responding to the sites' erratic quality in a variety of ways. Some, including Dr. David Nash of Philadelphia's Jefferson Medical Center, choose to "personally review" health Web sites in order to direct their patients to those they consider the most reliable. Others choose not to recommend specific sites. Dr. Donald Palatucci, a neurologist in San Francisco, said, "I don't feel I need to know them, and I've never been asked for a recommendation. I encourage patients who want to pursue that kind of information online to do it as much as they want, but not to take any action until they check with me."
The doctors agreed that some medical Web sites are more reliable than others. Those affiliated with academic institutions, medical organizations and government agencies were singled out for praise because of their objectivity and credibility. Not-for-profit groups' health Web sites were also recommended, but even they can be less than ideal. Dr. Michael Cummens, a family physician in Genessee Depot, Wis., explains, "The difficulty with some of the not-for-profit sites is that they get funding from some commercial sources, and you need to see if they have a clear editorial policy and how they separate editorial content from being influenced by any funding source." With commercial sites, doctors recommended learning about the source of the information provided. They "keep changing," Cummens said, adding, "Most of them license their content from other sites, and they can change their relationship overnight with those they license from. So one day, a site may get content from a very reputable source, but the next day it may get its information from a less reputable source" (Chin, American Medical News, Oct. 23/30).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.