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Wednesday, December 03, 2008 9:00 AM

Navigating Health Care: How to Find Good Information Online

Rand: These days, it’s easy to find health-related information online. But it’s not always as easy to find information that’s trustworthy, unbiased, and simple to understand. AHRQ Director Dr. Carolyn Clancy joins us now to talk about how to navigate the Web and find good information online. Welcome, Dr. Clancy.

Dr. Clancy: Thank you for having me.

Rand: We know more and more people are going online to research their symptoms or, after they’ve received a diagnosis, to get information about treatment options. How should people begin to navigate through the sea of information that’s available?

Dr. Clancy: The good news is there’s a lot of terrific information out there. The slightly less good news is, there’s just a lot of information and stuff on the Internet and people can feel a little bit overwhelmed. If you read something or stumble on a site that you don’t know how reliable it is and they’re telling you something magical, like "Take this pill which is completely harmless and almost free and you’ll immediately lose fifty pounds," the chances are that your initial instincts and responses are probably right.

Rand: But some of these Web sites can look very legitimate. How do you know you have found a source you can trust?

Dr. Clancy: The best way to identify a reliable source of information is one that is very clear and transparent about where that information comes from. If they are, for example, citing scientific studies or point you in the direction of getting additional information, and are very even-handed in the way the information is presented, the likelihood that what they’re presenting is reliable.

Rand: Do you have any particular recommendations of places people can go to find good information online?

Dr. Clancy: In addition to organizations that are focused on a specific condition or disease, there are many other sites that can be helpful to you as you’re searching for information online. In particular for health, the Department of Health and Human Services has a site called healthfinder.gov. That site has information that’s very helpful itself, but also serves as a point of entry and access to many, many other Web sites that are really wonderful. For information about navigating the health care system, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s Web site also has information specifically focused on consumers and addresses such topics as how to choose and use and insurance plan, where you might go for information to choose a best hospital, nursing home and so forth, and that address is ahrq.gov.

Rand: Dr. Clancy, why is it important for people to do research about their health care?

Dr. Clancy: I think it’s very important to know that people who are active participants in their own care, in general, have better outcomes than those who are not active and engaged. Now, again, most people have different decision making styles, but at the end of the day, the majority of individuals actually want to know about all of the options, even if they, then, turn to a physician and say, "Doctor, what would you specifically recommend?" If you are an engaged participant in the process, the more information you can gather, the better, because, at the end of the day, you and your physician share a common goal: finding the treatment that works best for you, the individual. I’m Dr. Carolyn Clancy and that’s my advice on navigating the health care system.

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