Check your source

Media reports this week highlighting the danger of non-medical personnel dispensing medical advice under the guise of a “doctor” have highlighted the importance of checking one’s source and questioning online sites that purport to have a medical doctor on standby.

Not only are these sites unethical and potentially illegal, according to the Health Professions Council of SA, they could have far reaching health consequences for innocent patients. For people with any type of chronic condition, these sites and unsubstantiated articles are particularly dangerous.

“People with diabetes, for example, have arguably the largest self-management burden of all chronic health conditions and many with diabetes would love nothing more to wake up to a news item proclaiming “An end to insulin injections for those with diabetes!”, says Michael Brown, diabetes specialist nurse and Head of Media, Publishing and Education and a Clinical Consultant at the Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology (CDE).

Brown says if you have a condition there is nothing wrong with reading all articles on that condition to maintain your interest in the condition and sharpen your critical thinking skills. “It’s important however to keep hope rooted in reality and to always check one’s source.”

Brown refers to US Infectious Disease Specialist, Dr Paul Sax, in his blog on How to Interpret Medical Breakthroughs in the Mainstream Media and shares the following advice to consumers:

· Be a sceptic – Yes, a ‘cure’ for diabetes/cancer etc would be wonderful and it may well happen for some ‘one day’… Is this story plausible however? Has it only appeared on the front page of your favourite tabloids? Check out ‘Dr Google’. Did this story originate from a scientifically validated study reported in a respected peer-reviewed medical journal? If not, remember to be a sceptic!

· Don’t be a complete snob – give the story a chance – Major advances occur in science every day!

· After all that, land someplace between Steps 1 and 2 – Read the full article carefully. Ignore the headline and copy hype. Focus on the proven facts. Maybe there are some promising initial results in rats or mice… funding has been allocated… top endocrinologists and molecular scientists are involved. But, any final therapy may take 10 years or more to pass all the tests needed

to ensure its safety and efficacy in your body initially and over many years. Finally, discuss it with your medical team and don’t stop your treatment because you think a ‘cure’ has arrived!

“Most importantly,” says Brown, “check and recheck the source and be careful what you find on Google.” In diabetes, for example, there are a number of credible websites one can visit internationally like; the American Diabetes Association; or locally or to name just a few. There are also publications like Diabetes Lifestyle which provide a credible source of information as all articles have been written or vetted by medical professionals.”

“In summary if you find something interesting always cross check it with your own medical team or local GP. It is the best way of determining what is fact and what is fiction,” concludes Brown.