There is an incredible amount of health information available to us today through the internet. Not only is it readily available, but it pops up constantly through ads and social media even when we aren’t searching for it. Because we depend so heavily on news,
social media, and online information for health guidance, I’m curious what your reaction would be if I told you that 88% of all online health information is distorted in some way?
Some of you may have trusted me and responded by thinking, “Wow! I had no idea,” or maybe even, “I could believe that!” while others might have been skeptical and wanted to know how I could possibly make that claim. Even though I can provide you with my source(that I do consider to be pretty credible) for where that statement comes from, I might have skewed or overgeneralized the information myself. The big question is how can you as the reader figure out how credible that statement is? Unfortunately, it is incredibly difficult if not impossible unless I provide you with my source. Even then, it can still take a lot of time to find the truth and know how to apply it to your life and your health.
When I was a pharmacy student on one of my clinical hospital rotations, I encountered a very extreme example of a patient who had wholeheartedly embraced inaccurate health information. They had type 2 diabetes and were in the hospital for a bone infection(osteomyelitis) in their foot. The infection had become so bad that their foot would need to be amputated in order for them to survive.
Every health care worker interacting with this patient tried to explain that this infection had been caused by their uncontrolled diabetes. Their blood glucose was consistently so high that they had lost feeling in their feet(peripheral neuropathy) and developed a sore that they couldn’t feel which became infected and had now infected their bone.
Despite our relentless efforts to educate this patient about the proper care and medication needed for diabetes and how they could not only salvage their limbs, but also continue to survive, they refused any medical treatment except for essential oils. Now, where this patient found all their health information, I’m not completely sure, but it was costing them their quality of life and before long, their life itself.
Again, this is an extreme example, but if we’re not careful and educated about how to determine if information is valid or not, we could find ourselves in a world of hurt. So, let’s get to it!
How can we determine if the health information we are provided is valid, credible, and applicable?
Now, lets put your new skills to the test! I have provided some references below to support my claim that 88% of all health information online is distorted in some way. Is my claim valid? Why or why not? Let me know what you find in the comment section below!
“Subscribe to my email newsletter below to get a free outline on determining the strength of different types of research studies – not all research is created equal!”
- Haneef R, Lazarus C, Ravaud P, Yavchitz A, Boutron I (2015) Interpretation of Results of Studies Evaluating an Intervention Highlighted in Google Health News: A Cross-Sectional Study of News. PLoS ONE 10(10): e0140889. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0140889
- Boutron, I., Haneef, R., Yavchitz, A. et al.Three randomized controlled trials evaluating the impact of “spin” in health news stories reporting studies of pharmacologic treatments on patients’/caregivers’ interpretation of treatment benefit. BMC Med 17, 105 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-019-1330-9