Making Sense of Medical Advice

If health news seems to conflict and that has you confused, it's time to learn how to read between the lines. You can do so by keeping these things in mind the next time you hear or read about a new health tip in the media.

Check it out

  • Be wary of anything that sounds too good to be true. It probably is. Watch out for "experts" who say they can do what healthcare providers can't.

  • Look into the advice before following it. Question who's giving the health advice.

  • Watch out for the sales tricks of the health fraud industry. Question word-of-mouth approvals, sensational advertising, and emotional success stories.

In print and on the TV

  • Look at the author's credentials. Where did they go to medical school? What professional groups do they belong to? Is the author board-certified in the specialty they are writing or talking about?

  • Don't believe the first thing you read or hear. Look for other articles or books on the same subject and compare what they have to say.

  • Look for a list of references at the end of the article or book. They should confirm the ideas that have been presented. Was the article published in a medical journal or a popular magazine?

On the web

  • Check the information you find on the Internet against articles in medical journals or textbooks.

  • Look for the credentials of the author or the organization sponsoring the website. If they are missing, that should be a warning that the information may be questionable. Information on the Internet is not controlled. Anyone can set up a website making health claims.

  • Good sites to explore for information are those run by medical colleges, health foundations and organizations, and government agencies.

  • Sites to read with a critical eye include those selling or promoting medicines or health products. Be careful about giving out personal information online, like credit card numbers.

  • Be aware that information you find on internet may be personal opinion and stories and not necessarily medically true.

Other tips

  • Put the advice in perspective. The National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are good sources for sound medical advice. Also, most studies don't call for changes in established guidelines. For instance, don't worry if butter or margarine is better for you. Instead, focus on getting enough exercise and eating the suggested number of servings of bread, cereal, fruits, and vegetables every day.

  • Don't follow advice because you want to believe it's true. Desperation can make people open to believing lies or bad information. Too much distrust can be a bad thing too. Deep mistrust of traditional medicine can blind you so that you'll accept fringe treatments.

  • Watch for attacks on standard medicine. Scammers want you to believe there's something wrong with standard medicine in the U.S. Or that healthcare providers and drug companies have plotted to keep secrets from you. For reliable information, turn to reputable sources, such as the American Medical Association, American Heart Association, or similar groups. And check whether medical studies have appeared in credible journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine or Pediatrics. These journals publish studies only after a panel of medical experts reviews them.

  • Run the advice past your healthcare provider. In most cases, healthcare providers keep up-to-date on new developments or discoveries. Your healthcare provider knows how to look at new health information with a critical mind and put it in perspective for you.

Online Medical Reviewer: Heather M Trevino BSN RNC
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Susan K. Dempsey-Walls RN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2024
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.