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The Doctor vs. Doctor Google

Fitday Editor

Whether it's the solution to a statistics problem or a remedy to the common cold, when it comes to finding helpful information, it seems today that many come to same conclusion: Google it.

In modern society, information is at our fingertips. Movies are streamed, books are downloaded, and mobile applications bring you instant access to games, news and social networks. Modern advances in technology have undoubtedly changed the way that we obtain information. And health information is no exception.

Researchers say that nowadays, many people have learned to rely less on health care providers and more on the accessible content available through mobile phones, tablets and computers. The Internet can be a great resource when you want to learn about a specific disease or health condition, or simply find tips on staying healthy. But, the problem with having this information at your disposal is weeding out the false claims, advertisements and faulty social advice.

A recent study found that younger adults who attended at least four years of college were much more likely to seek unreliable online health information about a health problem from non-experts than older individuals who had no more than a high school education.

The results could be linked to a few different factors. One, studies have found that the use of a computer with Internet connection significantly increases as education levels increase. In addition, it's possible that people with more education are simply more confident in their own ability to sort fact from fiction.

Another answer to these findings could purely be that the Internet provides an attractive platform to find information. Personal narratives, bold illustrations, colorful images - fun websites and personal blogs deliver a much more straightforward and attractive presentation of health information than a book or a research study could provide. Even those who are college-educated seemed to be turned off by the statistical analyses, intricate explanations and complex graphics that come from reputable sources such as government agencies or health and nutrition researchers.

The findings shed a surprising light on the impact and accessibility of online information. The instant access to digital health resources today is pretty remarkable. But amidst all of the questionable sites, there are just as many great resources available. And despite what you may think, you don't have to compare and contrast the statistical significance of 20 different studies in order to get the reliable information you are looking for. Just keep in mind a few tips when seeking out health information online.

Consider the Source

On a website, look for an About Us page and check to see who runs the site. Is it government sponsored? Is it presented by a university? A health professional? A business? Health-related websites may be published by the U.S. government (.gov), a nonprofit organization (.org) or a college or university (.edu). These sites may be the most reliable sources of health information because they're usually not supported by for-profit companies, such as drug or insurance companies.

Avoid Pseudo-Health Sites

Some sites, especially those that are company-backed, may have a secret agenda, whether it's peddling supplements or other wellness products. While commercial sites can offer useful and accurate information, you may want to be more careful about believing the information you read. The information may not be fair and accurate if the company that pays for the site has something to gain from it. To be sure, it's a good idea to double-check information you receive. If the message sounds one-sided, it probably is.

Avoid Broad Searches

Google "headache" and you'll get about 30 million results. The drawback of doing a general search is that you can get a mix of information - some of which could be inaccurate or irrelevant. Instead, expand your search terms to help narrow your results and hone in on the information you are looking for.

Don't Rely on Dr. Google

While the convenience of a Google search is appealing, expanding your searches can help you to avoid misleading information. The important thing to remember about researching health information online is to be skeptical, critical and never replace the trained eye and diagnosis of an experienced health professional with a diagnosis by Dr. Google.


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Sarah Dreifke is a freelance writer based in DeKalb, IL with a passion for nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease. She holds a Bachelor of Science in both Dietetics and Life Sciences Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Currently, she is working towards a combined Master's Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics as well as a dietetic internship at Northern Illinois University.

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