Say you have a new symptom or health concern. You’ve never felt this before. You don’t know if you should be worried or not. All that you know is that it is new.
What is the first thing that you do? Whip out your phone.
Or pull up to your computer and pull up our favorite search engine, Google. Now, I use Google. Everyone uses Google. Who doesn’t love answers at your fingertips that take a fraction of a second to load.
However, when I call a patient and explain results, one of my first statements to her is, “Be careful with Google.” Why do I say this? Two words:
“Doctor Google” is a term that we use for the use of search engines to diagnose and manage medical issues. While information is accessible and often useful, we have to be careful with what information you trust and how you use this information. Here are 5 tips to identify trustworthy health information.
Tip #1: Recognize the difference between evidence based information and opinion
Most of the healthcare practices that are in place today come from studies that determine whether or not a particular practice would work on most people. For example, pap tests used to be done yearly for everyone. In the last few years, studies show that we don’t need to do pap tests that often in part because cervical cells change slowly.
A better example is that for a long time, normal blood pressure was less than 130/90, between 130-140 was pre-hypertensive and above 140 was considered hypertensive. A couple of years ago, the guidelines were revised to say that normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. This was based on research that showed that blood pressure that is 10 or 20 points higher than normal could DOUBLE a persons risk of heart attack. Thus maintaining a Tower blood pressure will help you LIVE LONGER. Source, Harvard Health.
This is Evidence based information. In contrast, someone recently told me that celery juice would help reduce her blood pressure. This information is not complete or evidence based. Cleveland Clinic put it well when it said:
“Celery alone won’t bring down your BP.
Most major health organizations, including the Cleveland Clinic and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, recommend the DASH Diet, a nutrition program targeted at lowering BP and the risk of cardiovascular disease.
‘A diet based largely on plants is ideal,’ Dr. Shafer says.”
Tip #2: Notice the URL of the site that you are reading. Dot What?
I can’t speak poorly about .coms, because, well, The Gyneco-bLogic is a .com. When I do my on-the-fly health searches though, I tend to gravitate to .edu, .gov and .org first. That is because information that is produced or backed by universities and governmental institutions have to be well researched and vetted. You aren’t going to see information that doesn’t have evidential support on sites like that. Prime examples:
- National Institute of Health (NIH) is a .gov
- The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is a .gov
- Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic and Northwestern Medicine are all .org
- American Heart Association is a .org
- Harvard Health is a .edu
Also, be VERY CAREFUL with sites that don’t start with https://. If a site says http:// and is missing the “s” it is not secure. That “s” stands for “secure” and without it, not only could the site have viruses, well, that’s that main thing. Unsecure websites could have viruses. In the age of cyber theft, don’t take that chance.
Tip #3: Who is the author of the information?
Is the article authored by a professional? A doctor by chance? (Shameless plug.) Or at least an expert in their field? Many people who like to write or blog aren’t necessarily experts or those with researched evidence. They may be able to tell their story or capture your attention, but the question that you need to answer is:
“Will the information provided by this person be trustworthy enough to apply to myself.”
Tip #4: What is the source of the information provided?
Especially when health information is in play, SOURCES need to be present. Not only does any medical advice need a source, you need to click on or check out that source to make sure that it is legitimate. Load speeds are often so fast, there is no excuse to NOT know where the information that you are trusting is coming from.
Here at The Gyneco-bLogic, we are very careful to include links and sources. I may not be a .edu, but I am well sourced.
Tip #5: Remember that Google doesn’t know YOU.
One of the first clinical things that we are taught in medical school is how to form a differential diagnosis. How to ask the questions about a persons symptoms, medical history, surgical history, family history, medications, allergies etc to try to figure out the top 3-5 things that could be happening.
What’s the point of you knowing that? We have to collect a lot of information and essentially interview a person AND EXAMINE them in order to have any idea or what could be happening.
Can Google do that with one search engine question?
Hecky no. Google can give you the top keyword sites that come up based on the words that you typed, but that search result has NO idea who you are, what you’ve been through, or what is happening with you. Whether Google tells you that you are fine or if it tells you that you are dying, let it be a very basic introductory answer to your question. GOOGLE DOES NOT KNOW YOU.
Follow us here and follow me @dreverywoman. I’m starting a hashtag in Instagram #DrWendysWeb. I’ll be sharing sites that are great sources for various health topics. Look out for more there and here and as always, thanks for reading The Gyneco-bLogic.