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What Wikipedia Can’t Tell You About Researching Your Health Condition

One of the things I always hear from my patients is that they did all this extensive research, on why they chose a particular place, particular person, or particular treatment modality. But then I then hear that the last place they went to, or person they saw, or last treatment modality that they did didn’t end up helping them much.

So, if that is the case, what went wrong with all their so called research?

Now, before I start on this article, please know that I always promote that people should be educated on their particular health issue and always try to be fully informed. But, the problem these days, as I have mentioned often, is that ‘Dr Google’ is not a reliable source of education, or credible research for that matter. Nor should it replace a qualified healthcare professional’s advice, or proper credible research.

Is it an extensive search, or proper research?

When patients often say to me that they have researched something, it probably more likely means that have done an extensive search. More often than not, it means it is an extensive google search. As I said before, I recommend people search extensively and do their homework and become fully informed. Being informed gives you choices and this is a good thing.

Searching and research are two completely different things. When it does come to finding quality research, one needs to know how to distinguish between good research and bad research. This is where many come undone, unless they have studied how to evaluate proper research methodology and criteria.

Anyone can create a spectacular medical website

Now days anyone can post anything they like on their website, make it look pretty, quote a few research papers and make their page look like it is backed up with valid research. Let’s face it; making a website is pretty easy these days. It is so easy that your grandmother could do it and make out she was a professor with an academic position.

Current research is via subscription only

The other issue is research that is freely available to the public. Most research freely available to the public is often around 7-10 years old. Most current research is not even available to the public, unless you are studying and have access to university journal subscriptions. Current research is usually only available to academics and health professionals who have paid subscriptions, or who have academic positions. So by the time this free research is then made available to the public, it is usually out of date and superseded by current research.

Knowing how to interpret good quality research

We also have the issue that even if many of the general public could access credible current research, they probably would not be able to interpret it properly anyway. I know when I studied statistics and research criteria it took years to fully know how to interpret proper research and all the research terms. Let’s face it, without proper training most people would be flat out knowing what a T score, Z score, or null hypothesis meant, let alone all the other technical data terms.

Abstracts of research can be misleading

We also see abstracts getting cited to back someone’s claims up. The problem with abstracts is that it is not the full research paper and the headings on these abstracts can falsely convey what the actual research team actually found. I see many people “cherry pick” (meaning chose something to suit ones opinion) research and abstracts of research just to validate a personal opinion and also make it sound like it is factual. This is the whole issue with Dr Googling these days. Much of what is out there is not only not factual, but it is a far cry from what the original research paper actually stated.

There are flaws and lots of bias in research

There can also be high levels of bias in research too, based on who funded the research in the first place. A landmark study into the validity of current medical research showed that much of the published medical research is apparently flawed, cannot be replicated and/or has limited or no value. (1)(2)(3)(4)  This is also why it is important to know how to interpret and critic good quality research and know what is good research, or bad research.

The point I am trying to make is that while many people are searching for answers and looking to find good research, the fact is much of what is out there is very questionable indeed.

Finding out more information

When it comes to good research, or finding a good healthcare practitioner etc, it is like anything else in life. You do a lot of searching, then you narrow you choices down and then you go about finding out more information. The only way you are really going to know if you the information you are seeing on some website it factual is to ask to find out more information.

The value of a second opinion

I always tell my patients the value of a second, or third, or tenth opinion. It is like buying a car, or buying anything for that matter. You need to do the search and then go and find out in person. Ask the staff questions and then ask for an appointment to see whom you have searched up and found may be good for you to see. Then you need to meet the person and see if they stack up to how they are portraying themselves online. Do they know their stuff, or it is all just smoke and mirrors and just good advertising?

Get help to interpret research papers

If it is purely research you are looking at, find out if the actual research is factual and done via good research methodology. If you don’t know how to interpret research, then find someone who does. Never just go blindly off abstracts (eg –pubmed abstracts), or second hand research published on newsfeeds, or websites. Honestly, most good research is behind closed doors where you have to pay for it and if you aren’t paying for it, there is probably a good reason why it is being offered freely to all.

What to look for when searching and researching

When doing your searches, or research as many call it, then you need to be looking at the following:

  1. Where did you find the research? – Was it from a reputable source? (eg- paid journal)
  2. Was the information about the research interpreted by someone then posted in their own words? – Did they site the actual research they are referencing?
  3. Does the research have the potential to be biased? – (eg- a research paper stating softdrink is good for you and funded by a softdrink company)
  4. If it is a healthcare facility, or person you are searching, does their research seem like it is legitimate? – Is the information on their website directly created by personal opinion and do they back their words up with research and referencing?
  5. Does the person you are intending to see have backing to show they are an expert in what you are going to see them for? – (eg- do they post blogs on the subject you are needing to see them for, or does their website say that they are an expert in a particular field?
  6. Does the facility, or person, seem genuine, or does their website just seem like money grabbing and a fancy advertising stunt to lure people in?

Final Note

At the end of the day, in this current day and age, everything needs to be met with the caution of “Buyer Beware”. This goes for anyone you are searching (or go to see), or any information you find on the internet. Just do your homework and make sure who you are seeing, or what you are reading is legitimate.

But at the same time, when you do go and see someone, you do need to have an open mind and not go in with resistance either. This could get a genuine person offside and then ruin your chances of getting the help off someone really good. Never project your last experience onto the next person because the next person could be the one to help you.

Just remember that your new degree in Dr Google research may not be as good as the person’s real degree, education and clinical experience you are sitting in front of. But at the same time, the so called expert in front of you may not be an expert, just because they have a great website with all the glitz and glamour on it.

Regards

Andrew Orr

-No Stone Left Unturned

-Master of Women’s Health Medicine

-Master of Reproductive Medicine

-Women’s and Men’s Health Advocate

 

References

  1. Protect us from poor-quality medical research- Human Reproduction, Volume 33, Issue 5, May 2018, Pages 770–776, https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/dey056
  2. Altman DG. The scandal of poor medical research. Br Med J 1994;308:283
  3. Core Outcomes in Women’s Health (CROWN) Initiative. The CROWN Initiative: journal editors invite researchers to develop core outcomes in women’s health. Hum Reprod 2014;29:1349–1350.
  4. Flacco ME, Manzoli L, Boccia S, Capasso L, Aleksovska K, Rosso A, Scaioli G, De Vito C, Siliquini R, Villari P et al. . Head-to-head randomized trials are mostly industry-sponsored and almost always favour the industry sponsor. J Clin Epidemiol  2015;
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