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Caution advised when dealing with online medical advice

Gathering information about medical conditions or illness online may be handy but it shouldn't be considered a good substitute for in-person medical advice provided by doctors and nurses, says Sundre physician Dr. Hal Irvine.

Gathering information about medical conditions or illness online may be handy but it shouldn't be considered a good substitute for in-person medical advice provided by doctors and nurses, says Sundre physician Dr. Hal Irvine.A newly released national survey has found that more people than ever are seeking out medical diagnostic information online.ìI don't think it is a good substitute for seeing the family doctor,î Irvine said. ìYou still need a professional that you have a trusting relationship with to help you interpret information that you are getting online.ìIt is good that people take responsibility for their own health and that they are seeking information about that, but particularly on the Internet anybody can say anything so it can sometimes be hard to sort out what is valid and relevant information and what isn't. It's important to involve your family doctor in that process.îìIt (Internet information) may not be accurate, and even if it is accurate, it is sometimes difficult to apply it to the individual.îA recently released Leger Marketing survey found that 41 per cent of the Canadian adults polled said they turn to online sites centred around a specific disease, medical issue or health-related product.The poll found that women are much more likely to turn to the Internet for health advice.Overall, two thirds of respondents said they trust the information they are gathering online.A second recent study, from the Department of Pediatrics in Britain, found that health information provided online isn't necessarily accurate.The study reportedly examined 500 websites and found less than 40 per cent provided correct information regarding childhood ailments.The study found that government-run sites were usually accurate when it comes to health advice, while news sites were accurate only about half of the time.As well as looking online, Alberta residents can seek medical advice through the HEALTHLink Alberta toll-free line at 1-866-408-5465.HEALTHLink is a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week telephone health advice and health information service answered by registered nurses.It provides information on diseases and treatments and can direct callers to appropriate health services and information.ìOur goal is to give health-care consumers a greater role in managing their own health so they can make informed decisions about their health situations and what health-care resources to use from their own homes,î the HEALTHLink website states.ìHighly trained registered nurses will provide you with advice and information about health symptoms and concerns that you or a member of your family may be experiencing.îFor his part, Dr. Irvine says while HEALTHLink is a good ìbackup source of information,î it cannot replace in-person advice from a doctor or nurse.ìIn some ways I think it is a good thing because it takes some of the pressure off hospital staff and our clinic staff to some extent,î Irvine said. ìTelephone advice is always sort of fraught with problems; it can be very risky to try and assess someone and give advice over the telephone.ìThe good thing about HEALTHLink is they are using protocols so they are giving consistent advice. We (in-person doctors and nurses) can usually give more appropriate and better advice than HEALTHLink can, simply because you are just a voice on the telephone.ìI think you are going to get better advice that is better tailored from your own doctor. The problem is that we are not always available, whereas HEALTHLink is always there. It's a good backup source of information.î



Dan Singleton

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