The BBC has put together some very useful advice on obtaining health information online. As more and more sites spring us offering a whole array of health related advice and products, care must be taken to ensure that the site you are reading is providing sound advice, and will not either rip you off or worse, offer poor health advice which could leave you worse off. Beware of sites without transparent information.
There is a code of conduct now for health websites (The HON code of conduct). The main one being that a website should not claim to replace the relationship between doctor and patient. So steer clear of any sites offering a diagnosis via email.
All respectable sites should have a disclaimer and an “about us” page which clearly states what the site is for, if it falls under any health regulation, the qualifications etc. of the writers. Without this, you could be reading health tips offered by school children doing a biology project, and not even realise!
OK, maybe that example is taken to the extreme. But care must be taken if you are searching for health advice online. Many sites are affiliated with private companies that are only interested in sell their product to you. Often the sites put profits before ethics.
Regarding buying medicine online, the most important advice is;
“Shopping for pills and potions via the internet without a prescription is dangerous not only because you may end up taking something that’s not right for you, but because there’s no way of knowing whether the drug is what it claims to be.”
There are many excellent communities online where people can obtain valuable advice from people suffering from similar conditions, but care should be taken to avoid seeking diagnosis from these sites, as generally, as helpful as people are on health forums and communities, their medical knowledge is often based only on their own limited experience, and a misdiagnosis could be fatal.
First and final rule of safety from health websites is “always consult your own GP if you’re in any way concerned about your health.” That is from our disclaimer.
We wish you all good health and longevity!
The HON Code of Conduct
According to the Health Online Code of Conduct, a website should:
- Be authoritive – Indicate the qualifications of the authors
- Complementarity – Information should support, not replace, the doctor-patient relationship
- Privacy – Respect the privacy and confidentiality of personal data submitted to the site by the visitor
- Attribution – Cite the source(s) of published information, date and medical and health pages
- Justifiability – Site must back up claims relating to benefits and performance
- Transparency – Accessible presentation, accurate email contact
- Financial disclosure – Identify funding sources
- Advertising policy – Clearly distinguish advertising from editorial content.