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Online Research: spot real and fake articles

If you or a loved one have recently been diagnosed with a serious medical condition, I'm pretty sure you have googled it. With millions of articles to search through, how do you distinguish between reliable and unreliable information? When it comes to healthcare related issues, it is easy to fall into the trap of false claims especially when one is desperate to find a cure to a serious illness.

Separating fact from fiction accurately on the internet can seem daunting. But getting to the truth is always worth the effort – even if it's not what you want to hear! Use these five steps to weed out the accurate from the inaccurate:

1. Check the source

Check the credentials of the author. Check the credibility of the publishing platform (newspaper / forum / journal / social media). Check the credentials of sources quoted in the article. Find out a bit more about the publisher – is it a professional and well-known organization or is it someone's personal blog?

Check the URL of the webpage. Uncommon URLs that end in extensions like ".help" and ".offer," rather than ".com" or ".ca" or that contain spelling errors, may mean that the source is unreliable.

2. Crosscheck the references

A good article will support its claims with references to reputable professionals and well-known organisations, or widely published research articles in medical journals. The article might also refer to quotes from experts, survey data and official statistics. Crosscheck these references to make sure the claims are valid.

3. Beware of fake images

Modern editing software has made it easy for people to create fake images that look professional and real. Especially before and after pictures. If you have doubts, you can use tools such as Google Reverse Image Search to check whether the image has been altered or used in the wrong context.

4. Be web-savvy

If you have decided to conduct research online, you need to develop a critical mindset.

One of the main reasons fake medical news is such a big issue is that it is often believable. Many fake health news stories are published to create "shock" value. This means it is important for you to keep your emotional response to such articles in check. Be rational and critical about everything you read. Ask yourself, "Why has this article been written? Is it to persuade me of a certain viewpoint? Is it selling me a particular treatment? Or is it trying to get me to click through to another website?".

Also, never believe online testimonies from people about questionable treatments, they can be fake. For all you know, the "people" could be fake! (fake user accounts created for the sole purpose of posting positive reviews and promoting the product / service).

5. Follow your instincts

Finally, follow your instincts and use your common sense. If an article sounds unbelievable, it probably is. Bear in mind that certain medical news is designed to "feed" your biases or fears. Check if said treatment / drug is approved by FDA or Health Canada.

For example, if they claim they have a 100% cure for cancer, I say forget about it. Don't you think the person claiming to have found the cure to cancer would get a Nobel prize for Medicine and be in all the news headlines? If it were true, you wouldn't have to go looking for them!

If you are still in doubt, ask your doctor about it. Print the article and bring it with you to your next doctor's appointment.

I can imagine how challenging it can be for someone with no background in health sciences to research the latest advancements in medical treatments . At in4MED, we can make this stressful time easier by providing you with information about your condition, connecting you to local support systems and being there for you as your trusted health advocates. As always, feel free to connect with me or leave a comment.


Healthcare Consultant, in4MED

The author of this blog post is a Physician with over 10 years of experience working in the healthcare system as a clinician, researcher and educator. She is passionate about healthcare for older adults and strives to be a resourceful inspiration to caregivers.

*No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional.

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