How to navigate the internet safely: can you replace your healthcare team with Dr Google?

Thursday, 17 June 2021

In a word, no.

Working out if online diabetes information is evidence-based or just an idea can be tricky. Often information is biased or just an opinion with no scientific basis at all. And we all have very different opinions about things, don’t we?

Quite frankly, some of the online diabetes articles and products are whacky. When it comes to your health, beware. Read our tips to help weed out the nonsense.

Check the following points:

  • Firstly, who is operating the website? Is it a government department, a non-profit organisation (like Diabetes NSW & ACT), a professional organisation (like Dietitians Australia or the Australian Diabetes Educators Association), a company (which might be selling a product), a university, individual health professional or a person with no qualifications but lots of enthusiasm? Organisations such as government departments, non-profits, and universities are accountable to their funding bodies so would be expected to provide accurate, evidence-based information.
  • Secondly, who is funding the website? Some websites are funded by organisations or companies which are trying to get you to buy something from them. The information they provide may or may not be accurate but it could definitely be biased to get you to buy from them. Be aware many websites are tools for marketing products and services.

Who is the author?

  • Thirdly, who is the author? Do they have appropriate qualifications to provide the information? What is within one health professional’s scope of practice is generally quite outside another type of health professional’s scope. If someone uses the title “Dr” it doesn’t necessarily mean they are a medical doctor. And medical doctors aren’t expert in everything to do with health anyway. There are also many health professionals with strong opinions which don’t always follow the scientific evidence. These professionals may be well known media personalities or authors. Use your nose to determine if they might be trying to sell their latest book or tv series by making rash claims. There’s also lots of online forums, social media influencers and even your friends from Facebook: they all have their own opinions. That doesn’t mean they’re experts in your health conditions so while they may provide support and encouragement your own health professional team will be able to provide appropriate health treatment advice for you. Are they based in Australia? Some countries have different levels of accountability or the information they refer to may be correct for their country but not for Australia. For example, the food data for Australia is different to the US and labelling requirements are different in each of these countries. What the US considers to be gluten free oats is not gluten free in Australia.
  • Can you contact the organisation operating the website? People are motivated by different reasons so shonky websites full of false health information might just be someone’s idea of fun.
  • Is the information up to date? Health information, diagnosis and treatment changes as research occurs so what was accurate 10, 5 or 2 years ago may be quite out of date today.

Beware testimonials

  • Are there testimonials? Testimonials are social proof: they give us confidence that something that works for others will work for us. But businesses that use testimonials don’t post the bad ones. They are only ever going to post the good ones in the hope you will buy from them. Health professionals legally can’t allow testimonials on their websites or social media as part of their code of ethics. If they do use testimonials it’s an indicator that their ethics are questionable.
  • Are they using marketing tricks like unrealistic claims? If a website is making a claim that something can be cured, reversed, treated without using medications or traditional treatments then it’s generally a red flag that the website, and the information it contains, is shonky.
  • Lastly, are references included? Sometimes websites will include references to scientific studies to support their information. Bear in mind some scientific studies are better than others, while some are funded by the organisations that might benefit from favourable research.

What are reliable sources of information about diabetes and health in Australia? Here’s a few to start with:

If in doubt, always check information you have found online with your own health professional team.

Reference: https://www.choice.com.au/health-and-body/health-practitioners/online-health-advice/articles/guide-to-online-health-information

 Article by Dale Cooke, Accredited Practising Dietitian

Join our community of over 45,000 people living with diabetes