Feed medical information to the GATOR!

GO GATORS!

My cousin and her husband just stood up and cheered – both of them went to the University of Florida! This has nothing to do with UF… but in a way, it does.

Recent research done at the University of Florida shows that 86% of adult patients use the internet to find answers to health related questions. Yet, only 28 to 41 percent of those patients discuss the information they find with their doctors.

And as much as we’d like to think that people know enough to toss aside bad information, we all know people who think “It must be true; I read it on the internet!” As one of the researchers delicately put it,

“This discrepancy suggests that the majority of users accept web-based health recommendations in lieu of professional advice.”

Oh, boy. You know, you really don’t need that much to post something on the internet: A screen, keyboard, and internet connection will get the job done. You don’t need a degree or even a high school education.

So the good folks at Florida developed a five step system to evaluate the authenticity of health information you find on the internet. Naturally, they gave their system a memorable name – GATOR. (What did you expect? The University of Florida developed the first Sports Drink… and named it Gatorade!)

GATOR stands for Genuine, Accurate, Trustworthy, Origin and Readability – the five qualities you should look for when searching for medical information online.

Genuine: Is it a legitimate health website? For example, see THIS ARTICLE about Heart Defects and a common antidepressant. But also look at the URL and the owners of this website: are they trying to give medical information, or sell you their legal services?

Accurate: How correct is the information? This one can be a little harder to answer, as you need to know at least a little something about the information you are looking for. Chances are you do – so does any new information you learn seem logical and reasonable?

Trustworthy: This is very closely related to Accuracy, as accuracy usually builds trust. Does the information seem correct? Is the information linked, and do those links lead to legitimate sources that back up the information? Will another source give you the same information?

Origin: Where did the information come from? Google the author and see what you learn. Does he/she seem to know what they are talking about? If the website is formatted as questions and answers, look for questions that aren’t answered. It doesn’t matter how much you know, sooner or later someone’s going to hit you with a strange question. How you react to it is very telling. Obviously, if the majority of questions are answered with the phrase “I’ll get back to you on that!” then maybe the writer doesn’t know that much about the subject after all! Questions can be badly worded; does the writer ask for a clarification or attempt to interpret what the questioner wants to know? Or does he/she just dismiss them out of hand?

Readability: Can you understand it? Medical information that you can’t understand has no use. A link may take you to the original research (which will more than likely be written in “Doctor Talk) but can the writer rephrase it so that you can understand it? And when he/she does, is the information still accurate?

After going over the GATOR plan I think Adventures of a Funky Heart! stands up pretty well. I write about my life with a Congenital Heart Defect; I do my best to be accurate in what I say (I have links to the research that I post, you can read it and draw your own conclusions!) and I tell you many times to get a good doctor, and don’t do anything based on my advice without checking with your own doctor first. And I try to write in everyday language.

I think I would survive a GATOR Attack!

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