Monday, November 4, 2013

How to Search Like a Doctor - Finding Online Medical Advice

If you can search the internet like a doctor you will have access to the best of the medical internet. To find out how to search like a doctor, the best thing to do is ask a doctor what they would look for. But if you don't have easy access to a doctor to ask, here are some tips of what to be aware of when searching for online medical advice.

There are three types of medical information online: the pages written by patients and those written by doctors are the main two.

Those written by doctors are structured from the point of view of diseases and what symptoms they cause. The pages written by patients are written from the opposite perspective. They describe symptoms with a view to working out what the diagnosis might be. Most patients search the internet using terms that patients use, whereas doctors write using terms that doctors use.

It is always easier to search like a doctor when you have a diagnosis because you can then use the medical term. When you don't know the medical term there are still ways of finding better information.

For example, if you search for "black phlegm" all the results are web pages written by patients (whether or not you add the quotation marks).

If you search for "black sputum" (including the quotation marks) some of the results are medical.

Finally, throw in the term "diagnosis" and you will have found pages written by doctors.

Warning: don't scroll too far down or you'll discover that there is a thrash metal band called "Black sputum" and a competitor called "Black phlegm" - this is probably not what you are looking for.

The third type of site is out to make money from you. The quality of the medical information is not a priority for them. The money usually comes from advertising but sometimes from selling remedies with little or no medical evidence behind them.

The first two types of medical site were those written by patients or by doctors. The third is written by neither. The focus is on getting as many people to the site as possible. They have put thought into how patients search the internet so they can appear high up on the Google results for phrases patients use. Unfortunately, doctors are still only beginning to write pages that will be found when patients search.

The information on these sites has often been copied and pasted from other sites. When there is a doctor whose name and reputation is on the line, they will carefully check the information attributed to them and update them when things change. On the third type of site there is no quality control.

With this kind of site, be wary of the information. It may not be as accurate or helpful as it first seems. See if the site tells you where its information came from. Very often, there will be some kind of disclaimer but it might take a little searching out. Examples we have found include phrases such as:

"[This website] compiled the information contained on this Website from a wide variety of sources ranging from reputable medical publications to non-authoritative websites of unclear ownership. It is neither feasible nor practicable to confirm the accuracy of every piece of information compiled from all these varied sources."

"Information may be written, created, or compiled by people who are not medical experts. Information is not necessarily reviewed for accuracy by medical experts."

If you come across sites filled with advertising or selling products then try to be cynical and perhaps move on to the next result.

However you search and whatever results you come up with, one of the best things you can do is read several sites to get a fuller picture. Don't rely on the first site that comes up in the search results, compare it with others, use the hints given here to help assess the quality of the site and the information it provides. And, if you can, maybe ask a doctor about what you have found.

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