It’s 2020 and we are arguably more connected than ever. We can catch up with childhood friends on Facebook, reconnect with an old boss on LinkedIn, and make new friends across the globe on Twitter. The internet has put a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips and social media has made it easier than ever to share information -- including information that may come from unreliable sources.
This is a tricky situation to be in when it comes to health and wellness advice. Overall, about 80% of Internet users (roughly 93 million Americans) have searched for a health-related topic online, according to a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. On one hand, it’s extremely easy to google “best low-carb dinner recipes” or “5-minute guided meditation”. On the other hand, it’s also easy to get caught up in an article shared by a friend-of-a-friend on Facebook with questionable health advice. So what gives? Is all health and wellness advice on social media a sham? Can you trust anyone?
The answer is yes and no. First, recognize that everything you read -- especially if it is shared on social sites and you don’t know the source - requires a critical eye. It really comes down to understanding where the information came from and how it may impact you if it’s false (or true). Second, verify what you read.
When consuming information online, whether on a social site like Facebook or from Google, check where that information originated. Some articles are very clearly not written by authoritative sources on health and wellness and should be taken with a grain of salt. Others may be harder to discern, so take care.
The best bet is to always bring serious medical questions to your primary care doctor -- or another licensed medical professional you trust. This is a foolproof way to avoid getting bad or even harmful information. If you are just doing some leisurely research and want to understand different aspects of health and wellness, the internet can be a great tool -- when you get information from reputable sources.
If you’re researching symptoms or treatments for a non-serious illness (like a cold, for example), try reliable sources like Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library or MedlinePlus.gov. If you end up on another commercial site, be careful to look out for potential bias. Also, check the date of any articles you read to make sure they are recent (less than two years old). Finally, check to see if the author has relevant credentials. If they are speaking on medical topics, are they a licensed nurse, doctor, or psychologist? Be sure that you are only consulting articles that are written by qualified health professionals. Even sites that offer some reliable information can be tricky to evaluate. In some cases, sites provide relevant info but their sole purpose is to generate money.
While it’s good to exercise caution, much good can come from sharing health and wellness advice through social channels. Studies show that social media may actually improve access to health care information. Of the 80% that seek out health information online, almost three quarters (74%) use social media.
One of the key ways social media can actually be beneficial is by allowing physicians and other medical professionals to promote solid health care education. Whether via Twitter, WordPress, YouTube, or another platform, these forums enable doctors and other healthcare professionals to amplify evidence-based information and to counter unreliable or inaccurate content that exists online.
Social channels can also be helpful to patients. Some research has demonstrated that social media interventions may have positive outcomes for those trying to quit smoking, lose weight, increase physical activity, and more. These channels also provide an avenue for people to connect and support one another, especially those that are struggling with similar symptoms or conditions.
For those who want to go straight to the source, a primary care physician is the best bet when seeking out advice on or help with a medical question or issue. While many people tend to avoid the doctor at all costs, sticking to a regular check-up routine can be highly beneficial. Not only can regular check-ups help you identify potential issues early, but they can also actually save you money in the long-run.
Still not thrilled about going to the doctor? Decent can help. All of our plans are built around the Direct Primary Care (DPC) model, which emphasizes the doctor-patient relationship. What does that mean? For starters, you never pay to see your primary care physician. You get unlimited access to your DPC doctor and pay $0 out-of-pocket. You can access care via same or next-day appointments, telemedicine (video calls), and 24/7 phone, texting, and email support.
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