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Is There a Quack in The Mouse?

Dr Paula in an e-mail response says that medical information on the Web is subject to the same potential errors, and may deliberately mislead, as medical information obtained elsewhere.

"Claims made that seem extraordinary are not likely to be valid but at least looking for peer-reviewed literature supporting the claims are likely to result in getting valuable info," she points out.

She advises consumers to check credentials of all professionals by searching for their history at major medical associations. "Be wary of degrees that are not licensed and always check with your own physician before trying any treatment recommended on the Net," she reiterates.

Upah, also in an email, proposes that consumers deal with trusted brands and sources of content that clearly disclose both the author and any financial relationship that may have tainted the content itself. "This information should be clearly posted directly on the article and the site itself," he says.

Malaysian physician and Web site operator Dr Muruga Vadivale says that consumers can verify information by looking for the Hon Code or Medinex logo or similar certified sites. "There is no guarantee, but chances that the information is authentic are better."

Nonetheless, quack sites are quite difficult to spot, according to consultant physician and haematologist Dr Alan Teh. He recommends consumers check out Quackwatch or Federal Trade Commission for recent postings. Due to the sheer volume of misinformation on the Net, consumers must develop a critical mind and the ability to filter out unreliable information, Dr Teh adds.

Most medical professionals agree that the Net is a proven resource to families with ailments, chronic diseases and life-threatening illnesses. Public discussion boards and advocate groups have created useful and supportive online communities.

At drkoop.com, there are 130 chat support groups peer-led by a person who either has the condition or a specific interest in the condition. "Interest and involvement in those communities continue to grow."

Adds Dr Paula: "The suggestions shared between families dealing with similar illnesses can be invaluable and this information would not have been easily obtained without the far reaching arms of the Web."

Medical practitioners too have developed a healthy camaraderie online. Dr Teh set up a mailing list for doctors in 1996. Within a year, it grew to a doctors-only bulletin board system or Dobbs providing doctors a forum to discuss sensitive issues privy to the group. To date, 700 Malaysian doctors have registered with Dobbs.

"Solo practice can be quite a lonely experience. Dobbs has enabled doctors to reach out to fellow colleagues no matter how remotely situated, as long as they have Internet access," he confides.

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• Patient Power!
• Is There a Quack in The Mouse?
• Doctor Dotcoms
• First Do No Harm Online

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HON Code of Conduct for Medical Web sites
 
Exploding Internet health hoaxes
 


 

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