can we trust the internet for health advice?

Should online health advice be regulated?

How often do you visit your doctor? Compare this to the last time you consulted the oracle, (or Google as we now know him/her), about a health issue. These days, when we need medical advice, it’s most likely to be the web and not the doctor’s surgery we turn to.

Highlighting a growing concern about the quality of health information available online, the Journal of Pediatrics has published a study called ” “Safe Infant Sleep Recommendations on the Internet: Let’s Google It” .

The study focused on the topic of infant sleep safety, using the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations as a standard for medical accuracy. The AAP has published many guidelines on a range of subjects including infant co-sleeping, infant passive smoking and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Out of 1300 websites surveyed, only 43.5% percent were deemed accurate , 28.1% contained innaccurate information and 28.4% were medically irrelevant. The researchers looked at the Google search results for a number of infant sleep-related search terms, which turned up a variety of sites including government advice, news pages, blogs and commercial websites.

Commercial intent

Not surprisingly, government sites and urls ending in .org, (non-commercial domains) were the most accurate (80.9% and 72.5% respectively) and up to date. The worst performers were retail product review sites with only 8.5% providing medically accurate information.

Brandi Joyner, MSA, one of the co-authors of the study emphasised the importance of using using official government backed sites and cross-checking :

Parents should rely on government agency sites or the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for the most up-to-date information about healthy infant sleep practices. If they use other sites, they should always try and cross reference and use multiple sources, like the AAP, to find the most accurate information.

She was also wary of how some of the news websites covered certain health issues:

What we found was that some news coverage focused on the controversies as opposed to the actual safe sleeping guidelines. It’s especially important that we provide consistent and accurate information to adults because when there is conflicting information it’s easier for parents to discredit any of it, including the guidelines

Source: Decoded Science


What do you think? Should the internet be regulated when it comes to health advice? Have your say in the comments box below.



Jeff Mann is the founder and editor of Sleep Junkies. You can reach me at jeff (at) sleep junkies (dot) com
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