Online Health Research and Medical Advice: A Field Guide

How to Avoid Harmful, Deceptive Fertility Information Online

It’s common knowledge that it’s best to consult a certified professional when faced with medical issues, but online health research has become the norm in the age of the Internet. Demonstrated by a recent Pew survey, researchers found that “72% of internet users say they looked online for health information of one kind or another within the past year.” However, many ‘digital patients’ don’t know the source of this health advice, nor do they fact-check the authors or websites where it was found. Even when it comes to fertility care research, the first page of Google’s search results is enough credibility for some people.

Unfortunately, a lot of health information gathered from the internet can be spurious, misleading, even dangerous. In the field of women’s health, swindlers build sites with outdated public data not because they have any interest in fertility, but because they can gain search traffic and use it to sell advertising space to commercial institutions. The underhanded practices of these Internet scam artists require anyone performing online health research to recognize and avoid their pitfalls. This is especially true if you are seeking help with infertility, PCOS, or IVF treatment.

If you need help in dealing with fertility challenges, Lane Fertility Institute is always just a call or email away. However, there are several ways to tell if medical advice is questionable online, so arm yourself with knowledge before venturing online! We explain 5 ways to examine the credibility of digital research below.

Online Health Research

1) Pay Attention to the “About Us” Section of a Website’s Home Page

The real question of trustworthiness in online health research is one of authorship and authority. Before accepting medical advice for fertility treatment suggestions from a website, ask yourself: “who offers this information?” Is the author a medical professional with verifiable credentials and experience? Trusting the information on a health website largely depends on trust placed in the organization or individual providing it.

Trustworthy sources of health information online typically include:

Medical & fertility health websites known for their authenticity:

2) Check the Date of Publication: Most Public Health Data is Outdated

The medical profession is defined by a field of science that evolves rapidly, causing health advice to become obsolete very quickly. Fertility technology and women’s health research change the realities and possibilities of treatment at an astounding pace. Furthermore, the majority of “public” health data is already outdated when it’s posted online. Several high-ranking medical websites on Google are nothing more than a collection of obsolete health statistics that you shouldn’t rely on for credible or accurate data. Don’t take these sites at their words or numbers, always check the source of the research first.

3) Examine the Privacy Policy of a Health Website Before Reading

This is a great starting point when doing online health research or searching for fertility care on the web. By reading the privacy policy, you can learn if the site shares information with third-party commercial interests for monetary gain. If they do, your information is not kept private, and there is likely an ulterior motive behind the medical information on their website.

Be wary of any women’s health website with a privacy policy statement that includes anything like "We share information with organizations that can help provide you with useful health products."

4) Beware Exaggerated Claims and Promises of an Easy Cure

If a medical website makes statements that seem too good to be true, they probably are. If an online source of information regarding digital fertility care makes vague but overly positive promises of conception, be skeptical and look for claims that can be quantitatively verified. There is serious opportunity for profit in fake health cures and infertility snake oil that have absolutely no clinical evidence as to their efficacy.

5) Be Skeptical of Opinions and Testimonials Parading as Facts

Online health testimonials can be falsified, reviews of a fertility care center can be posted without verification, and it is difficult to find proof of subjective third-party opinion on the Internet. Don’t assume online reviews are truthful when doing online health research or determining where to seek help for infertility. Thoroughly examine all of the factual evidence presented, and if opinion is not backed up by data, the advice could be faulty.

Women’s Health Research and Medical Advice You can Trust

Even if you are doing online research for health services, fertility treatment, or medical information, your most trusted source will always be a real medical professional. Front-line healthcare staff or a trained physician will always provide you with honest advice given to the best of their knowledge and ability. This is true even if you’re asking where to find the best medical information online, trying to get help with fertility issues on the internet, or learning to critique the health advice you find in the digital world.

Have a question about the accuracy of the medical information you found online? Leave a comment below. We will respond quickly and attentively with an answer for you! The Lane Fertility team is always here if you are looking for a trustworthy answer to your health or fertility questions, so contact us for help when you’re in need.

Author
Dr. Danielle Lane Danielle E Lane, MD, Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Specialist

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