Looking up medical information is the 3rd most common on-line activity. While there are good sites with great information that can help people be empowered about their health, there are also tons of terrible sites marred by bias and rife with the stench of snake oil.
Sometimes you have to read an entire article to figure out if the content is valid, but there are 10 red flags that will help you separate the wisdom from the woo:
They have a “secret” remedy or cure (especially if it is an “ancient” secret). My personal favorite is a web site (doctor run, no less) that touts ancient weight loss secrets. Obesity wasn’t really a problem in “ancient” times, so it makes me wonder if this doctor is referring to famine, the plague, or some other “ancient” pestilence.
Patient testimonials (otherwise known as the “n” of one). Not only do they smack of insincerity, but they are unverified, self gratuitous filler. In my opinion, it makes the web site more like a beauty salon than a reputable source of medical content.
Unbelievable claims. How many products in your life time have you found to be 100% effective? (Unless of course the claim is in reference to quitting smoking or achieving a body mass index of 19-24, there is a 100% chance that will make you healthier).
You can’t tell the advertising from the information. Advertising means bias, and the more advertising, the more bias. Anyone selling you something is pushing a specific agenda, subtle or not.
Use of non scientific words such as “toxins” and “heavy metal.” These words are a charlatan’s version of smoke and mirrors and are a big neon sign for “Snake oil sold here.”
Promoting therapies we know from evidenced based-medicine to be dangerous or at least ineffective, such as tanning beds, colon cleanses, and the hCG diet. Tell someone they need a tanning bed is like telling them they need melanoma.
Promoting therapies aimed at “detoxification” (also see above, use of non scientific words). Now don’t get me wrong, detoxification means something WHEN USED CORRECTLY. Detoxification means getting off of alcohol or drugs. Reality check: the liver, kidneys, and colon (the body’s waste management experts) do not need help from any herbal concoction.
Primary focus is on complementary and alternative medicine. Studies tell us that web sites with CAM content are 15 times more likely to contain medically incorrect information.
The sites is selling you something (tanning beds, herbal remedies, home tests kits…what ever). Sales = profit. Are they profiting from the noble task of disseminating information or profiting by reeling you in for the sale.
The site/product is listed on QuackWatch (an awesome web site dedicated to thwarting purveyors of snake oil).