Educating yourself about your health issues or medical conditions is an important part of managing your health. The best place to find health information is from healthcare professionals. Ask your doctor, pharmacist or allied health professional when you have medical questions.
You should ask questions of your healthcare team so that you can fully understand your options, as it is their job to explain your health conditions to you. While reliable health information can be found in pharmacies, doctors’ clinics and community health centres, it can be difficult to find trusted medical information elsewhere.
Health information is readily available from reputable sources such as:
- health brochures in your local hospital, doctor’s office or community health centre
- telephone helplines such as NURSE-ON-CALL or Directline
- your doctor or pharmacist
- reliable health information websites, such as government sites, condition-specific sites, support organisation sites, and medical journals.
Other information may not be as reliable as that from healthcare professionals. It is best to assess other sources of medical information with an open mind as they may be inaccurate. These include magazine or TV stories or ads, advice from family and friends, or websites that may be promoting a product.
Some healthcare products or treatments may say they are ‘scientifically tested’ but this does not mean they are ‘scientifically proven’. If they do talk about health research, they should provide a link to the research information. Even then, the study may not be reputable. Only your healthcare professionals, such as your local doctor, can provide the most appropriate health advice.
Researching reliable health information online
Anyone can create a website, so there is no ‘gatekeeper’ to make sure that online health information is reliable. Working out which information is trustworthy is not always easy. As access to health research and evidence increases, so do the risks of misinterpreting it, and the chances of any one person getting a complete and balanced picture decreases.
When it comes to health and medical information, there are plenty of reliable sources available online through government-endorsed health websites (such as Better Health Channel), peak industry bodies (such as the Australian Medical Association) and peak condition-specific organisations (such as beyondblue and Cancer Council Victoria).
When searching for health information from less well-known online sources consider:
- The source of the information – understand who is providing or endorsing the content. The ‘About us’ page will tell you who runs the site – it may be a legitimate health organisation or an individual (such as someone who has had experience with the illness and wants to share what they have learned).
- Quality control measures – does the site have an editorial board? Is the information reviewed by qualified experts before it is posted? This information should be available on the ‘About us’ page or something similar.
- A level of scepticism about online health products – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Does it promise quick and easy results? Words like ‘secret ingredient’ should raise suspicions. If the provider is serious, they will be open about their products. Check if their claims are endorsed on more than one website.
- What is the evidence? – look for reputable medical research to back up claims. Do not trust testimonials from people you do not know – they may have been paid for their endorsement (or given free products or services).
- Is the information up to date? – check the date the information was posted or when the site was last updated (this is usually available at the bottom of the screen).
- Beware of bias – who is funding the website? What is its purpose? If the site is funded by a company that only recommends its own products, take this into consideration. Check if it has a particular philosophical bias that influences its advice.
If you have health or medical questions
Ask Anna for health or medical questions. Feel free to discuss medical issues with Anna.
Ask a doctor, pharmacist or community health centre if you have specific health or medical questions. Medical telephone helplines including the after-hours GP helpline or NURSE-ON-CALL can also be a quick way to find reliable medical information or discuss your health issues with a qualified healthcare professional.