DEPARTMENTS: Net Nomad
The Internet has brought the spirit of global communication and collaboration to nurses and other healthcare professionals in ways never before thought possible. These resources are offered to expand your opportunities for discussion, reference, education, and research.
We are inundated with easy-to-find healthcare information. It's on the Web, news broadcasts, commercials, and print articles. E-mail in boxes get unsolicited ads for drugs, "miracle cures," and quick remedies for all manners of ailments and problems. Thankfully, most of the e-mails get caught by my spam filter. There is a bewildering array of information, sometimes clothed in what seems to be credible sources. What was once declared "bad" for you now is reported to have health benefits. News stories question conventional therapies and treatment modalities. Sometimes, these stories report the conclusions of small studies or anecdotal evidence. It's easy to see how consumers get confused and potentially misinformed.
Health News Review (http://www.healthnewsreview.org) is a site that evaluates news stories based on 10 criteria:
- What's the total cost?
- How often do benefits occur?
- How often do harms occur?
- How strong is the evidence?
- Is this condition exaggerated?
- Are there alternative options?
- Is this really a new approach?
- Is it available to me?
- Who's promoting this?
- Do they have a conflict of interest?
The Web site is led by healthcare journalist, Gary Schwitzer, who was a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communications. It does not seek to endorse a particular treatment or therapeutic approach. The goal is to objectively assess healthcare information appearing in the media. Each review discusses how a story does or does not meet the criteria and offers a brief "Why This Matters" section the reader may use to relate the information to his/her own particular circumstance. There is a blog with an RSS feed as well.
The Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research (http://www.ahrq.gov) has a section called "Guides for Patients and Consumers" (http://effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/index.cfm/guides-for-patients-and-consumers/) as part of the Effective Health Care Program. Although the list is not extensive, each guide has three sections worth reading before jumping into a particular guide. There is a Fast Facts section, and the introduction has a section called What Does This Guide Cover and What Is Not Covered in This Guide. Each guide is published as a PDF file, and many have an MP3 or flash audio file to listen to.
For general health information, I have always recommended MedlinePlus (http://www.medlineplus.gov), which is a service of the National Library of Medicine. It is free of advertising and does not endorse particular therapies or treatments. Its criteria for including information on MedlinePlus are listed at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/criteria.html.
The Medical Library Association has a page entitled "A User's Guide to Finding and Evaluating Health Information on the Web" (http://www.mlanet.org/resources/userguide.html#1). It suggests four criteria for consumers' critical review: sponsorship, currency, factual information, and audience. In addition, it offers a "Top Ten" list of most useful healthcare Web sites.
Most healthcare professionals have their favorite sites, whether academic, commercial, government, professional organization, or special interest groups. That huge numbers of people actively seek healthcare information or support on the Internet is undisputed. Everyone, both consumer and provider, needs to develop a critical way of evaluating healthcare information regardless of its source. As Mark Twain once said, "Be careful of reading health books. You may die of a misprint."
William Perry, MA, RN
Senior Systems Analyst, Kettering Health Network;
Wright State University
College of Nursing and Health