Looking for Accuracy: Helping Patients Navigate Online Health Resources

Lisa Calderwood, MASenior Medical Writer



Wikipedia? YouTube? Facebook? LinkedIn? Twitter? WebMD? How can patients navigate the crowded blogosphere of medical information, health tips, community forums, or “med ed” videos to find the most accurate resources? The truth is that they simply can’t be sure they’re getting the most reliable information.

Consider a couple of recent studies looking at accuracy in online health-related sources:

  • In a study by the Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) reviewed in MedPage Today (YouTube Not Ideal for BP), the authors considered 33% of YouTube videos about hypertension to be “misleading” but deemed 63% to be more “useful” because they were aligned with recommendations from the Seventh Joint National Committee of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the American Heart Association
  • In a study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association(JAOA) (Caution Prescribed When Researching Medical Conditions on Wikipedia),  Dr. Robert Hasty and colleagues found that Wikipedia’s publicly edited medical articles are 90% inaccurate

Both of these studies are more striking when you consider that 72% of internet userssay they look online for health information. That’s a lot of people looking for information about hypertension and other chronic illnesses who may be sidetracked by inaccurate or incomplete information.

The news isn’t all bad. The JAOA study notes that there is a push on Wikipedia to have statements backed by references and unverifiable statements being called out to readers.

In addition, in an exploratory study published in Nurse Education Today(Wikipedia as an evidence source for nursing and healthcare students) Dr. Carol Haigh evaluated more than 2500 references from more than 50 Wikipedia pages and found they were of “sufficiently sound quality to suggest that, for health related entries, Wikipedia is appropriate for use by nursing students.”

Online research guidelines for patients

So what is a patient to do when exploring thousands of online resources for treatment options for a chronic illness or disease? Or, where should someone who is trying to self-diagnose a suspicious rash or lingering pain start a search? No matter what the reason for turning to the Internet for information—convenience, immediacy, lack of information from or access to a healthcare professional—caution seems to be the operative word.

Dr. Hasty and his colleagues from the Wikipedia study suggest that “caution should be used when using Wikipedia to answer questions regarding patient care.” They also recommend that patients

  • Consult with their physicians about treatment options and to discuss questions about prescriptions or over-the-counter medications
  • Use multiple medical resources to get different perspectives
  • Look for websites with medical advisory boards and peer-reviewed content

Dr. Nilay Kumar with CHA says that doctors need to do more to help educate their patients, as well. “Given the fact that so many patients with chronic diseases look at medical information online, the medical community must take a more proactive approach in prescribing medical information to patients,” he said.

Helping pharmaceutical companies educate patients

With today’s focus on patient-centered care and patients searching for and selecting their own health information resources, the need for accurate, reliable information is paramount. Pharmaceutical companies play an important role in the process by providing medical professionals with informative tools to help their patients make informed decisions about their treatment options.

Artcraft Health produces digital and print educational solutions for pharmaceutical companies that are grounded in research from public health organizations, federal agencies, and universities, such as the American Heart Association, National Institutes of Health, and Harvard Medical School. We employ targeted, health literacy teaching strategies that reflect the most current guidelines and are carefully assessed for accuracy.

We understand that online healthcare resources play an important role in supplementing patients’ educational needs. Importantly, though, when patients receive clear, actionable, relevant, and engaging educational tools from their doctor or nurse—such as the strategies Artcraft Health develops—they are more empowered to make optimal treatment decisions with their healthcare team and adhere to appropriate therapies.