Personal Health

Doing Your Own Medical Research Before Talking to Your Doctor

In today's digital age, most people are surfing the Web to learn about their health. In fact, a recent Pew Research survey found that seven in 10 adult Internet users say that they have searched online for medical research about specific health conditions and treatments.

The Internet is changing not just the way that patients get medical information but also the way that they relate with doctors. In a Journal of Health Communication study published in 2012, researchers reported that almost 70 percent of patients said they were planning to ask their doctor questions about the information that they found online, and about 40 percent said they had printed out information to bring to their appointment.

Researching health information can benefit both you and your doctor by making you partners in care. Here are some tips on collecting and sharing your research during a medical appointment.

Finding Helpful Information

The Internet allows you to gather clear, current, and accurate medical information, but not all websites are reliable. For instance, some websites may post incorrect or out-of-date medical information or link to advertisers who are trying to steer you toward a specific treatment. As a general rule, websites sponsored by federal government agencies — such as the National Institutes of Health and MedlinePlus — have information that's easy to read and based on the latest medical research.

Preparing for Your Appointment

To get the most out of your face time with your doctor, plan ahead:

  • If you find medical information online that you want to discuss, print out only the most relevant parts.
  • As you read through your materials, write down any confusing words or information. Ask your doctor or nurse to review the medical research with you so that you understand how it might be helpful to you.
  • Make a list of questions, and prioritize them so that you get to the most important ones first. If you don't have time to discuss everything, ask whether you can follow up by email or phone.
  • Remember that the sources you read will not go as deeply or thoroughly into any topic as the education and training that your doctors receive, so carefully consider any rebuttals or other opinions that your doctor offers.

Avoiding Self-Diagnosis

While the Internet is a good source of useful health information, there is no substitute for consulting a trained medical professional who can interpret and explain your research. It's good to do your homework, but you also need to be ready to listen to your provider's advice so you can work together and make educated choices about your health care.

Visit the Medical Library Association or the MedlinePlus page on healthy Web surfing for helpful suggestions on evaluating online health information. You can also try using these same websites for your research.

Posted in Personal Health

Trained in medical marketing communications, New York City-based Jeffrey Young has been a health, science, and medicine writer for 15 years. He has also led content-development groups at two PR agencies and currently freelances for both corporate and academic clients, including Bayer, Covidien, Eli Lilly and Company, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck & Co., and Pfizer. Jeffrey's strengths include interpreting research findings and telling stories that resonate with the average health consumer or patient.

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*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.