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Health online: safe surfing

Thursday 7th November

We’re increasingly doing more and more online, and with a wealth of websites to provide information, stay in contact with friends, do our shopping it’s very easy to use Google as a first port of call.  It’s no wonder that a growing number of us are turning to the internet to self-diagnose.

Whilst there are reputable sites, such as NHS Direct that can help reassure us what symptoms are and if we need to book an appointment with our GP, there are many sites that are unreliable and can potentially leave us fearing the worst.  If you type in “headache” into Google, over 19 million results come up, and on the first page alone a link to “brain tumour symptoms” is available. Brain tumours are actually very rare; however seeing this on an internet search can then put the idea in your mind that your simple headache is something far more serious.

How to find trustworthy reliable advice online

In reality, anyone can set up a website and post health-related information on there. That does not mean the information is legitimate and backed up by real medical professionals. Many of us do not check the source of the information or even the date it was created – medical opinion changes all the time as new developments are made. Some sites may even ask you for money for an online diagnosis which you should never do – you can go and see your NHS GP for free and authentic advice and information.

When looking for health information online, it is best to approach with caution. Look for a website that is hosted and run by a credible organisation, such as an academic institution or the NHS. The way to tell is to check the website address; “ac.uk” means the source is academic whereas “nhs.uk”.  Such sites generally state at the bottom of the page the last time the page was reviewed or updated, and when the next review is due. 

If content is sponsored by an organization, selling something or recommending a certain product, the information is likely to be biased.

If you’re looking for advice on a particular condition, search for well-known organisations, especially charities (.org.uk) or government sites (.gov.uk) as these will host credible information and advice.

Finally, never purchase medication online. You could be sold something that is either a harmless placebo, in which case not treating your condition, or something that has not been labelled properly and therefore seriously harmful to your health. Instead obtain legitimate prescriptions from a GP or consultant. 

Tried and trusted health sites

NHS Choices
This website is described as the “online front door” to the NHS. It is the UK’s biggest health website and provides information about different conditions, including a symptom checker, with practical advice to self-manage, visit a GP, or when to go to A&E. All the advice and information featured is up-to-date, evidence-based and provided by healthcare professionals.

benenden health members can also call the 24/7 GP helpline on 0800 414 8247.

Cancer Research UK
Cancer Research UK fund over half the UK’s cancer research, provide information on different types of cancer, and campaign on key cancer issues such as access to cancer medication and health screening.

British Heart Foundation
The British Heart Foundation is the UK’s leading heart charity. They focus on funding research and their website provides a wealth of information about the prevention, symptoms and living with heart disease or a heart condition.

Arthritis Research UK
They work to help people with all forms of arthritis and fund research, educate healthcare professionals and provide information to those living with arthritis and their carers.

Royal College of Psychiatrists
The Royal College of Psychiatrists is the professional and educational body for psychiatrists in the UK. They lead in setting standards through education, training and research, and promote best practice in mental health services. The College publishes books, reports and education materials for both professionals and the general public.

benenden health members can call our Psychological Wellbeing 24/7 Helpline on 0800 414 8247 and request our Psychological Wellbeing services.

Medhunt
Run by the Health On the Net (HON) Foundation, MedHunt pools results from trusted health sites, which all subscribe to HON’s code of conduct.

Patient UK
A comprehensive health site run by doctors, Patient UK features more than 750 evidence-based patient information leaflets.

 

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