Consumers are constantly told to look for “trusted” health content online (whatever that means), even though most consumers don’t systematically look for any markers for an article’s quality. And when they do, the markers have little relationship to actual article quality to begin with:
A new study published in the journal Cancer recently confirmed what Josh Seidman of the Center for Information Therapy has also written about: the display of the source and date on a page is not correlated with the presence of high-quality information. The absence of those two markers is also not correlated with low-quality information. The one marker for inaccuracy found in the Cancer study was the presence of information about complementary and alternative medicine or CAM. CAM pages were 15 times more likely than other pages to contain inaccurate information.
Gilles Frydman, the president of the nonprofit Association of Cancer Online Resources (ACOR), said it best in an article he wrote over at the e-Patients site:
We, the e-Patients, do not want to read medical information from the trusted and vetted static websites. We need accurate and current information about our current medical problems. And with the explosion of new targeted therapies these problems are going to multiply, leaving almost any health professional unable to keep track of all the side effects of the therapies they prescribe. It is a trend I am noticing for a few years and it is clearly accelerating. In fact the acceleration is such that now it is almost a given fact that “trusted” static sites cannot produce web accessible pages containing the information we so desperately need.
He makes a good case against the need for certifying and “trust relationship” organizations that attempt to bring some vetting of health content to certain sites (e.g., those who can afford the certification, or have content appropriate for the certification process). The sites are often full of stale content, and the certification process is self-serving and looks for indicators which may have little correlation to up-to-date, quality health information.
Gilles also reminds us that in the 15 years he’s been running his online cancer support community, he’s never heard of a “death by Internet medical information.” Nor have I.
While misinformation is out there — from virtually every site online today, trusted or not, community or not — the truth always seems to find its way to patients looking for it.
Such truth isn’t hard to find, as it’s often found on the very patient communities like ACOR that provide one of the most valuable methods for transferring informal but invaluable medical knowledge.
The full entry is worth your time: e-patients: Trusted doesn’t mean accurate. Safe is almost certainly stale