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Getting Health Advice Online Requires Caution

Lots of people use the Internet in the USA. About 74% of Americans over 18 are online, and most people (60%) access the Internet with high-speed broadband connections. Up to 80% of people use the web to search for health information, among their other online activities.Apple with keyboard.

Knowing this, medical professions recognized that the Internet is an important, if concerning, tool for transforming both health care and public health. Clearly, the Internet can be a huge asset for communication and education about health. It can be an effective yet economical element to manage diseases, and an important resource in helping people change their health through interventions and programs.

But, at the same time the Internet has its limitations. There is an increasing concern, about online health information that is inaccurate, erroneous, misleading, or fraudulent and actually poses a threat to public health in general.

Studies show that more and more people self-diagnosing health conditions based on what they read online, seeking information about alternative treatments or medicine, and using healthcare strategies that go against medical recommendations.

Recent research examined a group of adults in Washington State regarding how they use the Internet to seek health information. The study reported that 74.9% rated the Internet as a moderate-to-important source of health information. About 52% sought health information from the Internet at least weekly.

One finding caused particular concern. The study asked if they had ever refused or discontinued treatment recommended by their doctor or dentist based on information they obtained online. And 11.2% reported that they indeed had changed their doctor's treatment based on information they found on the Internet.

We should take extreme effort to choose health care providers who are competent, and then we should follow their health care advice. While the Internet has an abundance of excellent and accurate information, there is also plenty of inaccurate and misleading information available.

About the Author

Gary L. Hopkins, MD, DrPH, MPH is currently an associate research professor at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan where he is also associate director of the Institute for Prevention of Addictions, Director of the Center for Prevention Research and Director of the Center for Media... Read More