Guest Opinion | The Doctor is in: Medical research and how to find reliable data

Using these tips can help you search for accurate medical information and sort fact from fiction.

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Whether you work in health care or not, it is likely you have used Google to answer a medically related question. If so, you’re not alone. A recent survey from Pew Research Center showed that 72 percent of adult internet users have searched online for information about health issues, including about specific diseases and treatments.

When it comes to finding useful and accurate medical information, it can be hard to know where to start. Here are a few tips you can use to find the answers to your medical questions, without falling into the trap of misinformation.

  1. Is the resource reviewed by an expert on the topic?

A reputable resource clearly states where the information is coming from. This could be in the form of an “About Us” link on a website or an “about the author” at the end of an article, with clear description of their qualifications and affiliations.

  1. Is it too good to be true?

When it comes to medical advice, claims of certainty are not commonplace. Always be skeptical of any source that is making a bold or absolute claim.

  1. Is this information evidence-based? Is it up to date?

A reliable resource will include clear indications about where and when the presented information was obtained. This may include article citations in a footer or toward the bottom of the resource.

  1. Is the information strictly positive?

Recall that absolutes are rare in medicine. A balanced article will weigh the pros and cons of specific treatment in order to reduce biased opinions and help consumers of the information make an informed decision based on their health. If the source you are looking at does not do this, you are likely not receiving all the relevant information.

Based on these criteria, there are many reliable online resources you can use to find medical information. MedlinePlus is a website from the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) that provides easy-to-understand health information.

Websites from reputable medical institutions like the Mayo Clinic or organizations like the American Diabetes Association also pass as reputable sources for medical information. These websites will often include links to research for further exploration.

If you are a visual learner, check out a tutorial from the NLM for a short walk-through on how to evaluate health information websites, and this video from the University of Iowa Information Literacy Librarian, Tim Arnold, for a discussion on disinformation.

When looking for health information, especially about your health, accuracy is imperative. Following these four quick and easy steps will allow you to efficiently find the most accurate answer while avoiding false medical information. If you are in need of assistance in your research, do not hesitate to contact UI Libraries or one of the Health Sciences librarians on the Hardin Library website.

As always, feel free to talk to your medical provider if you have questions about what you are reading, and if you have any questions about your health.

-Landon Crippes,  second-year medical student, Class of 2024

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