Picture the moment. It is 3am and you have a really bad stomach ache. You are scared and in pain. “Time for Drs Google, Yahoo or Bing,” you think, typing your symptoms in to your favourite search engine. In England alone, there are 50,000 organisations offering web-based help in health and social care. They range from the evidence-laden to the random, the sensible to the crazed, and the helpful to the hysterical.
So how to make sense of it all? Nearly all of us – 87% in both the UK and the US – use the internet, and searching for health information is one of the most popular activities. More than 80% of internet users seek health information or advice. The information is plentiful and free: only 2% of those seeking health information online in the US, for example, pay for it. But we are obviously wary – or perhaps healthily sceptical – of what we read online. A US survey by the Pew Research Center showed that the vast majority of people still ultimately rely on a doctor or healthcare professional for medical advice, 60% also ask relatives and friends and nearly a quarter ask people with the same condition.
But what if it is that 3am scare, and everyone is asleep? Which websites can you trust, and how can you tell? A range of healthcare experts share their tips and recommendations:
Barbara Sahakian, professor of clinical neuropsychology at the University of Cambridge, says she generally recommends experts rather than individual websites. However, she singles out the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (nice.org.uk) for general health information, the US National Institutes of Health (nih.gov) for excellent advice on mental health, alcohol and substance abuse and addiction, and the Alzheimer’s Society website (alzheimers.org.uk) for reliable information and support on dementia.
The mental health campaigner
Marion Janner, campaigner and founder of Star Wards, one of this year’s Guardian/ Observer Christmas appeal charities, recommends her organisation’s site,wardipedia.org, to anyone seeking information on mental healthcare. “It’s an online compendium of great practice on mental health wards, with over 1,000 examples of imaginative, therapeutic care contributed by staff and patients, along with the evidence base.”
source: the guardian