Forbes.com Profiles Concerns, Benefits of Online Health Information
Forbes.com's "Best of the Web" Summer 2001 issue features an article on the benefits and problems associated with health information Web sites. According to a recent Harris Poll, nearly 100 million people turned to the Internet for medical advice last year. Forbes.com reports that as the number of health-related Web sites increases, so do doctors' fears that consumers may be reading inaccurate information. Forbes.com points to a recent study commissioned by the California HealthCare Foundation that found that online medical information is often incomplete, misleading or difficult to understand. Dr. Stephen Barrett, a retired psychiatrist, said, "There is a tremendous amount of information out there, but what is missing is an accuracy or reliability filter." Barrett now operates Quackwatch.com, a "watchdog" Web site designed to inform consumers of "quackery" and health fraud. Other sites analyzing and evaluating online health information are also beginning to appear. For example, HealthGrades.com looks at "reams" of federal data on topics such as mortality rates by procedure to create a ratings system for hospitals, nursing homes and other providers. Forbes.com reports that there also is "lots of useful medical information on the Web." Dr. George Lundberg, editor in chief of Medscape and former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, has "five rules" to judge the "trustworthiness" of a health site:
- the writer of the material must be listed;
- the writer's employer contact information should be available;
- quoted material should be attributed to the original source;
- the owner and sponsor of the site should be disclosed; and
- the information should be current and dated.
Forbes.com's Web site also provides a review of 135 health and fitness sites (Schifrin/Wolinsky, Forbes.com, Summer 2001).
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