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You Can’t Always Trust the Internet For Health News

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You Can’t Always Trust the Internet For Health News
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Social media is not the place for health news

The following is a summary of this episode. For the full experience, we encourage you to subscribe and listen – it’s more fun that way. Provided by University of Utah Healthcare.

Some Good Sources for Online Health Information

If you’ve ever looked up your medical symptoms online, it can seem like every website assumes the worst possible scenario. These results can be alarming to say the least. So where can you find reliable health information online?

Dr. Troy Madsen has dealt with the stress of trusting bad online information personally and professionally with his patients. He’s put together a list of websites he uses and has found to be the most reliable to find information on any medical topic.

Each of these websites are from reputable health organizations run by professionals. Dr. Madsen highly recommends using these sources over a basic web search to make sure you’re getting the best information possible.

How Can You Tell if a Health Article is Valid?

When it comes to research you see in your news feed, it’s easy to get bad information. There are a lot of potential problems with online health journalism. Media groups often write articles about science and medicine in a way that can get them clicks. Due to limitations, the story is not always able to go as deep into a topic as is necessary to fully understand the complex nature of scientific studies. And finally, most journalists lack the medical or scientific background to accurately present the findings.

Dr. Troy Madsen has a list of tips that he suggests everyone follows when reading any study to help you decide if it’s true.

  • First and foremost, make sure the article links to a published scientific study. If there’s no study, there’s a good chance the information in the article is misleading.
  • Make sure the linked study actually claims what the article says. Most scientific journals will give access to the abstract or short summary of the research for free. Read through to make sure the journal isn’t twisting the findings.
  • Make sure the study is published in a reputable scientific journal. There are “predatory journals” that allow any group to pay to publish research in official sounding publications. To be safe, only trust journals like The New England Journal of Medicine, The Journal of American Medical Associations, The Lancet, or The British Medical Journal.
  • Avoid studies that make bold and definitive claims. Science is nuanced and seldom makes hard and fast claims about anything.
  • Make sure the claims are backed up by multiple studies. For example, if chocolate really did cure cancer, multiple studies would be looking into it.
  • Be sure to check the sponsor of the research. It’s not uncommon for companies to back skewed research that shows the positives of their products.

Be a skeptic! Next time a scientific story comes across your feed, keep an eye out for these elements to make sure you really are getting reliable information.

What Makes a Good Scientific Study?

Troy also suggests a few things to look out for when judging the validity of a study. A good scientific study should have the following:

  1. The best type of studies use “randomized control trials.”
  2. The gold standard for medical research are “prospective studies,” where the scientist actively follows the patient and their behavior rather than rely on anecdotal information.
  3. Low “P-values.” A p-value is a statistic that describes the likelihood of the collected data having errors. As such, a lower p-value means a more reliable study. Look for data with a p-value less than .05. That means there is less than a 5% chance of the data being wrong.
  4. Large numbers of subjects. A scientific study about health should include over a thousand subjects minimum. Ten thousand is even better.

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