The options for finding great health information on the Internet are endless. But as with any good situation, there is a downside. The Web also harbors sinkholes of pseudoscience, shady activities, and, in the worst cases, outright fraud, all published in the name of “health.” Nowadays, you can buy powerful drugs online without a prescription -- some that could kill you if you use them incorrectly.
It’s no secret that medical scams have been around for centuries, but Internet scams are even more prevalent, thanks to new Web technologies. The Internet gives scammers a worldwide reach for a relatively small investment. And this stuff can be dangerous. While testing and trying a new hair restoration remedy might only leave you hairless, delaying chemotherapy in favor of a miracle grapefruit cure from the Web can be deadly.
Consider this example: Dr. Stephen Barrett of the QuackWatch site tells the story of a woman who followed a Web “celebrity” doctor’s advice to use a corrosive bloodroot paste after being diagnosed with a benign tumor on her nose. By the time she saw a dermatologist six days later, a large portion of her nose had been destroyed.
Granted, there is no way to track the harm caused by these scams -- most victims don’t file lawsuits, either because they believe in the fraudulent products, or the companies selling them are out of the reach of U.S. law. But it’s time to take a stand and start finding ways to protect consumers from malicious health information, products, and resources on the Web.
The best defense against online fraud is an educated consumer. Credible health services like my organization, OrganizedWisdom, hire patient advocates and medical professionals to filter out the scams and fraud, give the lowdown on dubious therapies, and link to the best evidence-based information available on thousands of health topics. And there are a growing number of these authoritative resources.
We’re part of the Health 2.0 movement, leveraging the power and knowledge of experts to help people connect to reliable health resources. We do this by keeping responsible editors and physicians at the helm to make sure the results are useful and safe, and by filtering out the clutter, junk, and scams that often appear in a typical health search on Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) or Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO)
Here are five quick steps informed consumers should take to protect themselves from malicious health information:
- Start your medical researching at trusted Health Search engines like OrganizedWisdom, Healthline, or Healia.
- Use trusted health sites that have been certified by accreditation directory URAC or feature HONcode seals on the homepage.
- Check the source of the information to see if it is sponsored or trying to sell something.
- Tell your doctor about the online health resources you typically use and ask him or her to recommend medical resources.
- Ask your local politicians and representatives to strengthen laws against medical fraud and resources for enforcement.
It’s not hard to see why the fraudulent health sites prosper. We all want to believe in miracles. We want our parents to live forever. We never want our kids to suffer. We want to be younger, thinner, and taller. But being informed and taking practical steps can help protect you from becoming a victim of fraudulent health information online.
— Steven H. Krein, CEO, OrganizedWisdom