Alice Brandfonbrener M.D.  

"Things Are Seldom What They Seem"

Alice Brandfonbrener M.D.
April 10, 2019

Medical Information on the Internet

The lay press often does contain good scientific medical information, but how to appropriately apply this information is a different matter. As we all know, there is so much information available on the Internet that it is impossible to discern which information is reliable and which comes from totally anecdotal, biased, and scientifically misinformed and misleading material.

The difference between information from scientific sources and from some of what is published in the lay press is that there is documentation. (To everyone’s distress, especially those of us who consider ourselves “scientists,” none of this is 100% reliable, as uncovered with the stem cell work recently published in one of the most highly prestigious scientific journals.) But as is particularly true of material from the Internet, there is absolutely no way of documenting where this information comes from. Anyone can post anything on the Internet. This is not necessarily intended to be misleading – it may come from one person’s experience and is described from a totally subjective point of view. But it is scientifically unsophisticated.

Reading never hurts anyone, but when reading medical information that comes from unknown sources on the web, particularly case reports, the information must be regarded with a high degree of suspicion. There are, indeed, many web sites that do provide absolutely scientifically reliable information for reading by the general public. Nevertheless, to go the next step from reading by a non-medically trained musician to interpreting medical symptoms is a hazardous step, and can lead to both unrealistically pessimistic or optimistic self-diagnoses.

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