I wasn’t too surprised reading the other day that health-related matters take up 2% of all queries on internet search engines. In fact, I thought the figure would be higher, judging from day-to-day conversations with patients.
The big question of course is: how reliable are the facts dished out on the Internet? Obviously, its important that these websites are reliable and churn out accurate information. Even so, healthcare information is complicated by a few other factors not related to the reliability of these websites, as explained later.
How do you identify reliable websites? First of all, as a yardstick, websites sponsored by the governments, not-for-profit health or medical organizations, and university medical centers are the most reliable resources on the Internet. Sites supported by for-profit drug companies, for instance, who may be trying to sell you their products, are usually not your best option. Also note that medical info changes rapidly with time and a look at the dateline of the article is important. Here are a few such sites:
Medlineplus.gov – sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and managed by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus provides information on more than 900 diseases and conditions in their “Health Topics” section, and links to other trusted resources.
WebMD provides a wealth of health information and tools for managing your health from an award-winning website, which is continuously reviewed for accuracy and timeliness.
MayoClinic.com – owned by the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, this site is produced by more than 3,300 physicians, scientists and researchers from Mayo Clinic, and provides in-depth, easy-to-understand information on hundreds of diseases and conditions, drugs and supplements, tests and procedures.
Sometimes,even with reliable trustworthy information, its rather difficult for the untrained public to give due weightage to the complex info that is being bombarded onto them. For instance, when reading the side-effects of a particular medication, it is difficult to appreciate that not all the listed side-effects will invariably occur when one consumes the drug.
This is why its better to consult a doctor to obtain clarification. It takes years of medical training to adequately decipher fully what’s found on web health-sites and to fully appreciate its implications.
In fact, the over-reliance of info on the internet has given rise to a new condition called cyberchondria (aka internet self-diagnosis) – this refers to the practice of leaping to dire conclusions while researching health matters online. If that severe headache haunting you in the morning led you to the Web search-engine and a search on ‘headaches’ led to ‘brain tumours’ or ‘meningitis’, people tend to look at the first few results in the search-engine which forms the basis for them to probe further till they are convinced that they have a brain tumour. The likely diagnosis is probably cyberchondria than anything else! The phenomenon has become so pervasive that Microsoft did its own study on the causes of cyberchondria way back in 2008.
When it comes to finding out which doctor or hospital is the best for one’s needs, many are quite at a loss. In fact, I’ve been asked this question many times. Here are some pointers:
- Look for a hospital with a good safety record as well as those possessing a recognised accreditation standard (such hospitals voluntarily undergo screening by a recognised review body, such as the JCI, in order to provide services of a certain minimum quality).
- Find out from your doctor where he sends his relatives to. What’s good enough for a doctor is usually a stamp of approval. Why, even nurses in the hospital may be able to suggest the right doctor if one cares to ask.
- Look for a doctor who’s busy. Sure, it means long waiting times, but this might be worth it in the long run.
- Some health department websites do provide statistics on how many specific operations are done in a year and what the complication rates are. This way one can opt for the best hospitals for a particular procedure. Here’s a website that provides info of the best hospitals in the US, for instance – click here.
- At the end of the day, its important that you click with the doctor – a good doctor-patient relationship is extremely important and contributes a long way to a good outcome..
- How to Choose a Doctor (healthadel.com)
Some readers of this blog asked what they can do to prevent a stroke from hitting them. Plenty! A very recent research study just released in the British Medical Journal by 4 authors, one of whom is a Malaysian classmate who now works in the UK, reveals 4 things that people can do to reduce the chances of getting a stroke by half.
The study, conducted in England involving 20,000 people over 11 years, showed that they could reduce the chances of getting stroke by 50% if they did all the following life-style measures:
- not smoking
- being physically active
- limiting their alcohol intake to not more than 14 units a week
- fruit and vegetable intake of at least five servings a day.
Apart from the above, it is well-known that the presence of the following risk-factors also predispose to stroke: high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, atrial fibrillation (irregular heart-beats), heart disease and certain blood diseases which cause clotting.
One does need to realise, however, that some risk-factors cannot be changed or eliminated. Try changing your age (the chance of having a stroke approximately doubles for each decade of life after age 55), sex (more common in men), your relatives( your stroke risk is greater if a parent, grandparent, sister or brother has had a stroke) or the fact that you have had a previous stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA, or warning strokes)!
The whole idea of getting away from stroke is to eliminate as many of the above risk-factors as possible and to lead a healthy lifestyle.
See my related article “Mending A Stroke In Time”.
Boy or girl? Blue eyes or black? Blonde or brunette? In less than 2 years, would-be parents will be offered the chance to select traits like the sex, eye and hair colour of their offspring. A US Clinic, pioneer of IVF (in vitrio fertilisation) in the 70’s, is now offering this service based on a procedure called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD.
PGD is a technique whereby a three-day-old embryo, consisting of about six cells, is tested in a lab to see if it carries a particular genetic disease. Embryos free of that disease are implanted in the mother’s womb. Introduced in the 1990s, it has allowed thousands of parents to avoid passing on deadly disorders to their children. However, this method has now been extended to select those genes which will result in a desired trait, like color of eyes.
Its not all glamour and bells & whistles. Coming soon after the birth of octuplets (eight,yes eight) in a single pregnancy by a Los Angeles mother in January this year after an unrelated fertility treatment (see here), this technology too has attracted its share of critics. BBC News reports UK fertility experts are angered that the service will distract attention from how the same technology can protect against inherited disease. Moral, ethical and legal issues will arise when babies are turned into commodities that you can buy off the shelf. Also, in the UK, sex selection is banned under present laws.
As a reflection of changing times and rapid medical advances, the UK will soon introduce legislation that will allow IVF mothers to name anyone as “father” on the birth certificate – even another woman. Confusing? Welcome to the world of designer babies..
Also see “No Girls Please, We’re Indian”