Roshini Raj, MD, is Health's medical editor and co-author of What the Yuck?! The Freaky & Fabulous Truth About Your Body. Board-certified in gastroenterology and internal medicine, Dr. Raj is an assistant professor of medicine at New York University Medical Center and a contributor on the Today show. In our new book, Dr. Raj fields personal and provocative questions-about your body, sex, even celeb health fads.
Q: Where can I find good health info online? Is any site really trustworthy?
A: Last week, a new Harris Poll found that more adults than ever are going online for health-care information. Back in 1998, only 50 million American adults said they had used the Internet to look for information on health issues and topics. Now, that number has jumped to 175 million. A full 88% of adults who are online have used the Internet to look for health information.
As a doctor, I appreciate patients who are interested in their health care. It's important that you understand what is going on, the symptoms, treatments, and possible side effects. And you can find really good, reliable information if you know where to look.
But first, a big caveat: Reading the information on these websites may put you in an unnecessary panic-the term 'cyberchondriac' is often used to refer to someone who thinks she has a disease she read about online. Internet research can also falsely reassure you, which is just as bad. Diseases act differently in different people, and you may find it hard to 'connect the dots' of your symptoms to those that a website says you should be experiencing. You should also know that there are a lot of non-MDs doling out medical advice on the Web. So always have a healthy bit of skepticism, and trust your instincts: If the information seems incorrect or the site is trying to sell you something, look elsewhere.
That said, you can get good advice on the Internet. I trust information provided by academic medical centers, like New York University, and nonprofit medical centers, like the Mayo Clinic. The National Library of Medicine within the National Health Institutes also offers great information, as does the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Large consumer-health websites, such as Health.com and WebMD, work with top medical professionals to provide carefully vetted medical information too.
But just remember: There is no substitute for an actual doctor's visit, during which she can hear you describe your symptoms, ask questions, and give you a thorough physical examination. So even if you think you've found a solution online, follow up with a trip to your trusted physician.
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