Web Medicine: The New "Apple a Day"?

USA TODAY, October 2000 | Go to article overview

Web Medicine: The New "Apple a Day"?


The Internet has the potential to affect dramatically the way medicine is practiced in this country, but surfing the Web is not going to replace a visit to the doctor's office any time soon, maintains James Anderson, a professor of medical sociology at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., who has studied the impact computers have on medicine.

"The Internet has changed the way we communicate with each other and the way we gather information," he explains. "In the case of medical information and services, it's a bit of a double-edged sword. There is plenty of well-documented research available that can give consumers a leg up in understanding the complexity of their health care issues, but there is also plenty of misinformation that can be misleading or just plain dangerous."

Anderson says consumers first and foremost must be vigilant about the reliability and accuracy of the Web-based information they are using to make health-related decisions. "Websites operated by reputable organizations such as the National Institutes of Health or the Mayo Clinic are going to be more reliable than others. A recent survey of 60 websites offering treatment suggestions for the relatively common ailment of childhood diarrhea found that 80% of those sites contained inaccuracies when compared to official information from the American Academy of Pediatrics."

Anonymity is another concern, because consumers who seek medical advice online have no way of checking on the credentials of the person providing it. "Even if you are exchanging information with actual clinicians, it's very likely that they are not specialists in the area you need. …

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