Jill of All Trades MD has posted a note about how to identify medical "booby traps" on the web. By this I mean web sites and blogs providing medical advice that is skewed, unscrupulous, or designed to sell you some product like vitamins. I am also bothered by "disease foundations" that sponsor what appear to be unbiased web sites but which receive most of their funding from pharmaceutical companies and medical device and may exhibit favoritism in this regard. Here are her mildly edited rules for raising suspicion about medical sites on the web (see: 5 tips to evaluate medical websites):
- In general, please be wary of any website with the ending “.com”, and opt for those websites with “.gov” or “.org”.
- If you are reading info online that is starting to become frightening to you, that is your signal to turn the computer OFF and make an appointment to see your doctor instead.
- Always ask yourself, “Who is writing this article?” Is it written by a physician? Most of the time, it’s not. Many online health articles are written by journalists with “special focus” on medical information....Whatever that means, it’s NOT typically sufficient enough to be giving patients medical advice.....The scarier and more controversial their writings, the more money they make.
- Find out who sponsors the article, and if the writer is affiliated with any entity that wants to sell you a product. Does the author work for a drug company? What are they trying to sell you?
- Anything you read is one dimensional......Medicine is complex, that’s why it takes a minimum of eleven years of school to become a doctor. Otherwise, doctors would be out of a career. Trust your doctor.
One warning. It may be difficult to ferret out whether drug company money is behind a medical web site but most should openly list their sponsors. It doesn't hurt to dig deeper than the home page of a medical web site when researching such sponsorship. For me, the antidote for this type of slanted news is to check facts and opinions on multiple sites, particularly using the .gov, .org, and .edu sites for reference purposes. The Big Pharma supported web sites may push a particular drug or even set up fake questionnaires to convince the reader that they have a certain disease or condition (see: Rigged Depression Survey on the Web Steers Readers to Lilly's Cymbalta). I randomly picked the Arthritis Foundation out of the air and immediately found their web site with Google search. For what it's worth. here is a list of their Proud Sponsors. Here is a list of their Proceeds Sponsors. Here is a list of their Event Sponsors. The bottom line is that the five "veracity rules" above seem sound to me as a starting point. But don't totally write off .com sites. If you did so, you would not arrive at this blog. The company that hosts this blog, Typepad, is a for profit entity.