Health Supreme by Sepp Hasslberger

Networking For A Better Future - News and perspectives you may not find in the media

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July 26, 2003

Study says Internet provides vital health information

Marian Sandmaier, journalist and writer, tells us of a recent research "Internet Health Resources" recently released, which examines the question of health research on the internet and comes to the conclusion: We may not always get what we want, but often enough, we get what we need.

This is a surprising outcome, contrary to the widespread perception which sees the "medical Web" as a kind of Snake Oil Central, a repository of all manner of health rip-offs, quackery, and at best, well-meaning error.

Marian's conclusion is, that there is useful health information on the web, certainly more than you are likely to get from your medical doctor during one of those "nanosecond doctors' visits".

What can we learn from her experience? We are responsible for our own health, and we better get the information wherever we can find it. Doctors we may look up to as the "experts" often don't know either.

Take 2 aspirins and go online

by Marian Sandmaier

posted on APFN - Thu Jul 24 20:57:22 2003

Marian Sandmaier, a writer in Merion, Penn., is the recipient of the 2001 June Roth Award for Medical Journalism of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, 07/24/03

Last year, when my daughter Darrah began to complain of severe headaches and a bizarre "whooshing" sensation in her head, not one but two doctors assured us that nothing serious was amiss. I looked at my daughter's face and knew the doctors were wrong, so I went on the Internet to try to diagnose the trouble myself. There I discovered that my 16-year-old had developed a rare neurological reaction to a new antibiotic she was taking--a reaction that could result in blindness and lifelong pain. I took her off the drug and within days, her symptoms began to reverse and she is fully recovered.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who seeks a second opinion from in the throes of a health crisis. According to "Internet Health Resources," a national survey released last week by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, nearly half of all U.S. adults - some 93 million Americans - surf the Web in search of medical guidance. Our motives are diverse and urgent, from trying to diagnose an elusive disease to researching a prescription's side effects to preparing for surgery. But the most surprising news about these dogged Web quests: We may not always get what we want, but often enough, we get what we need.

This is news indeed, since a popular conception of the "medical Web" is as a kind of Snake Oil Central, the repository of all manner of health rip-offs, quackery, and at best, well-meaning error. Certainly the medical establishment is wary of it: An editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association last spring charged that "a plethora of inaccurate and even potentially life-threatening content [is] readily available to anyone with a modem and an Internet browser ..." Rough translation: Surf and perish.

Yet when you ask ordinary Americans what they've experienced - and the Pew researchers asked more than 4,000 people nationwide - nearly three-quarters of Internet users say that the Web has improved their health knowledge and, by extension, their medical care. Most reported that their online research has empowered them to ask more informed questions of their doctors - and at least some physicians seem to be responding. A study published in the March 2003 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that when a patient brought online medical information to an appointment, the doctor spent about 10 extra minutes discussing it with them.

This is not to idealize the Internet as a peerless health resource; it has plenty of growing up to do. Anyone who has surfed the Web in the midst of medical crisis knows the sense of flailing panic that accompanies the struggle to decipher often pitilessly technical information from Web sites of vastly different quality and reliability. In my own anxious search to find out what ailed my daughter, I encountered one site that said 5 percent of patients with Darrah's disorder would lose their eyesight. Another site claimed 22 percent. Still another site's verdict: 96 percent.

Yet even in my panic and confusion, I was aware of feeling grateful. The Web, at least, was giving me something - some crude but compelling outline of what my daughter might be up against - whereas before I had nothing at all. The information spurred me to act decisively: first, to take Darrah off the offending medication before it was too late, and, second, to bring her to a first-rate neuro-ophthalmologist, who confirmed my Web-based diagnosis and carefully monitored my daughter's condition until she had fully recovered.

What I've learned from our hairsbreadth escape from medical disaster is this: Each of us must be prepared to understand and aggressively manage our health care as never before. I believe that the first two doctors who saw Darrah and misread her symptoms were well-intentioned. But in today's world of nanosecond doctors' visits, physicians barely have time to respond thoughtfully to commonplace ailments, much less the rare and complex diseases that come their way. More than ever, patients and doctors need to collaborate on health-care knowledge and decision-making--and the Web, cautiously used, can be a vital tool in that partnership.

I am among the lucky ones with the means and know-how to scour the Web for medical information. The Pew survey reports that some 24 million Americans still have no access to the Internet, while many others lack the health literacy skills to make good use of it. Rather than malign the Web for its medical frailties, let's figure out how to make it more accessible, user-friendly and responsible. For like it or not, the Internet is becoming a critical form of health insurance. Let's make sure we get the coverage we need.

"I am only one, but I am one.
I cannot do everything, but I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do."
---Edward Everett Hale

See also more recent:

Health websites no threat to GPs


posted by Sepp Hasslberger on Saturday July 26 2003
updated on Tuesday December 21 2010

URL of this article:





Readers' Comments

The information/knowledge on the web is astonishing. There should only be so many hours in the day to do the research I would like to do about health, nutrition and life extension. Yes, it is extremely vital information accessible to the fortunate ones who have computers and (computer)literacy. Nevertheless, computers will be more accessible to larger numbers in the near future as their prices continue to drop. Additionally, handicapped or those who are not as mobile as others have the world and a world of knowledge, cutting edge science and information at their fingertips just as we mobile people do and they do not have to leave home to access that information. The Internet and Web are wonderful; those writing/contributing to our knowledge are wonderful and I for are am grateful to be living in the time, this age of miracles.

Posted by: JOYCE DADE on August 3, 2003 06:36 PM


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The Individual Is Supreme And Finds Its Way Through Intuition


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

These articles are brought to you strictly for educational and informational purposes. Be sure to consult your health practitioner of choice before utilizing any of the information to cure or mitigate disease. Any copyrighted material cited is used strictly in a non commercial way and in accordance with the "fair use" doctrine.



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