Thursday, July 7, 2011

Information on the net...How to decide what information is good and what is bad?

How to interpret data on the net can be very difficult.  We are living in the age of information and there is a LOT of information out there.  So how do we work out what is good information and what is bad?

I can give you a very academic answer but this may not help you.  The most practical way is to go to a credible source and also, be guided by your Health Professionals.

In my practice, Iam always very mindful of how to intepret any new data that is presented to me.  I often say that no information is sometimes better than having bad information.  Bad information can create a lot of anxiety, panic, and misguided action or "reactions".

There is a particular study that I want to highlight to illustrate how information can be "misintepreted".

There was a study that we reviewed during my study as a medical student.  The study showed an association between the risk of leg clots in hospital patients and smoking.  It actually showed that the smokers had LESS RISK of getting leg clots.  So the question is, "Can you conclude that smoking is good at preventing leg clots?".  Sounds absurd I know, but this was "true" from the study.

However, on further appraisal, they concluded that there was a "confounding factor".  Smokers were not allowed to smoke in the ward so they had to walk outside to have a smoke.  So, it was actually the walking and the mobilizing that helped to reduce the risk of clots and not the smoking at all.

This highlights that you have to look at a study closely in order to get a "true picture".  Intepreting studies can be like looking at the clouds sometimes.  You can see what you want to see, so be careful.  Rely on a credible source and your Health Professionals to sieve out the good information from the bad.

Dr Vin Tran
Family Doctor Australia

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