There are internet forums for all kinds of illness. We explore whether you can rely the advice and information you can get from these sites
Health information on the internet used to be shaped by doctors. Now it's being shaped by patients. And it's patients, not doctors, who are making the real progress in providing health information that delivers what people really want to know. But how do you know if this information and advice is trustworthy, and worth heeding?
Many people will be familiar with, or have experienced, the following scenario. Your doctor delivers the news that you are suffering from a condition or ailment. After the initial shock has passed, you are hungry for information, and once back at home, type the condition into Google. In front of you appears reams upon reams of information, including countless forums where patients share advice and support. But how do you navigate through this information minefield; will reading other people's experiences prove beneficial, or instead deliver an unhealthy dose of fear, anxiety and misinformation?
Separating fact from fiction
Certainly, health consumers are not blind to the net's problems. Blatant commercial agendas which present opinion as fact, the downright barking bonkers, the health conspiracist - the net has them all. Six out of ten of us say in surveys that we know the net to be full of misinformation.
But we love it on so many counts. Immediacy, confidentiality, the linking with others, and most can navigate round its faults by more exhaustive searching and comparing of sites, for instance. And an overarching reason for the existence of these sites is the gap between what health professionals think we ought to know and our actual health information needs. After all, how many of us have emerged from the doctor's office feeling slightly confused about a diagnosis, and how it will affect our quality of life?