With a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips, it’s tempting to fall down a health rabbit hole. However, just about anyone can post information — or misinformation — on the internet. The result of such open-source, unmediated content is a hodgepodge of accurate and inaccurate information. While there are certain governmental protections in place to prevent health disinformation and misinformation, it’s ultimately up to you, the consumer, to make judgment calls.
Two-thirds of all patients Google their symptoms before seeing a practitioner. In most cases, health professionals and patients benefit from this. Older patients report a greater frequency of going to the doctor after searching for information on their symptoms online. This can be the difference between catching an illness early or letting it go for too long.
In some cases, however, patients feel greater distress after looking up information about their health on the internet. This worry is likely a result of seeing drastic conditions in the search results. However, this can be mitigated with knowledge of how to find reliable sources.
It’s crucial to understand the difference between reliable information and cash grabs, sponsored posts, satire, or misguided advice. Whether it's deciphering the latest beauty trend, assessing the viability of a new skincare routine, or contemplating a significant health decision, the task of sifting through the noise can be overwhelming. Equip yourself with the tools to navigate the labyrinth of health information, empowering you to make informed choices and take a balanced approach to your well-being.
The first step in making well-informed decisions about your health is to diversify your information sources. Relying solely on popular trends, anecdotal stories, or a single source can lead you to misinformation. Instead, cast a wide net by consulting reputable sources such as medical journals, academic research, and trusted health websites.
For example, you could be thinking about making the switch to natural skincare. You’ve heard a beauty influencer on TikTok talking about how it clears up their skin and is better for their health. As a responsible consumer, you decide to look a little deeper and see if their claims are substantiated with facts. You diversify your sources of information by looking at peer-reviewed journals and case studies using natural ingredients in skincare versus skincare with fragrances, dyes, parabens, and other chemicals produced in a lab. You consult your dermatologist to see what brands they recommend. You may even look at blog articles and talk to friends with similar skin types.
The larger the number of sources you can siphon information from, the better. Typically, you’ll want to seek out sites that end in “.gov” or “.edu” and articles or communications with reputable, well-reviewed healthcare professionals or news outlets. It’s perfectly fine to look at sources with lower reliability, such as lifestyle blogs or TikTok videos. As long as you are doing your due diligence and looking up the products and recommendations behind the scenes, you are diversifying your sources and coming to a conclusion based on your more comprehensive analysis.
Information sources with lower reliability will likely have flaws and biases underlying their content. What you read or hear is not always true, and it’s your job to delineate the facts from the fiction. Even if people aren’t intentionally spreading misinformation, there is always room for error. Some of the reasons why information may be flawed include:
Biases can be conscious or unconscious, explicit or implicit. Everyone has biases innately, and not all of them are inherently bad. However, it’s important to be aware that they can and do exist and permeate the spread of information. Your own biases can even affect the way you consume wellness content. For example, you could be exhibiting confirmation bias if you are only choosing to read articles and watch content that confirms your existing beliefs. This shuts out the other side of the argument, as well as any gray areas that are important for a valid analysis.
Many purveyors of health information are motivated by sales. The health and wellness market in the U.S. is giant and growing, annually raking in an estimated $450 billion and counting. Clearly, well-being is worth it for consumers. After all, it’s of utmost importance to care for your body and mind. It’s just important to be aware of content creators who stand to gain from unsubstantiated claims.
Not all marketing is created equal. In fact, most companies use content marketing to spread the word about products or services. This doesn’t mean that every product or service that uses marketing techniques is not being truthful. However, it does mean you have to discern between those who are being honest and those who aren’t.
For example, you may be subject to generational marketing. It’s common for companies to choose a target audience based on broad generalizations of an age group. Again, this isn’t inherently bad, but you must be aware of this targeting. Determine if your needs align with those in the campaign. In any case, it’s best to look behind the curtain and see whether or not product, service, or wellness advice claims can be backed up with facts that pertain to your unique situation — not just your age.
With the rise of online forums and the advent of the metaverse, the dissemination of health and beauty information has taken on a new life. While online platforms provide valuable spaces for information sharing, they also open the door to rampant misinformation and inappropriate content. When looking at health forums and having discussions about wellness in virtual reality (VR), make sure to:
In the metaverse and beyond, take an active role in safeguarding your well-being. If you encounter information that seems dubious or too good to be true, investigate further. Consult reputable sources to verify claims. If you're uncertain about the reliability of certain content, consider reporting or flagging it to the platform administrators. By doing so, you contribute to a healthier online environment for everyone seeking reliable health information.
As you navigate the sea of health and wellness information, you'll likely encounter debates about natural treatments versus medical interventions. For instance, you could be researching cosmetic surgery and natural skin treatments. Approach your search with an understanding that different tactics work for different individuals.
While natural treatments can be effective, consult qualified healthcare professionals for personalized advice. In cases where medical interventions are necessary, seek guidance from trusted medical practitioners. Your health decisions should be based on a holistic view of your individual needs, preferences, and medical history.
Author by: Luke Smith