Medical advice on Internet falls far short, experts say

May 23, 2001|By KNIGHT-RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - The nearly 100 million Americans who turn to the Internet for medical advice should get a second opinion, experts say.

While generally accurate, online health information is often incomplete, confusing or contradictory, according to a study published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association. The problem is worse on Spanish-language Web sites, experts concluded.

While convenient, informative and immensely popular, Internet health sites are not to be relied upon, concluded a survey by the RAND Corp., a think tank in Santa Monica, Calif.

"What we found on the whole is that there are gaps in the information provided," said Dr. Leo Morales, the report's co-author. With rare exceptions, he added, "they're all doing an equally poor job."

The RAND study, titled "Proceed with Caution," found that most English-language sites offered only about 70 percent of the minimum information needed for readers to make intelligent decisions about their health care. Spanish-language sites provided only about half the needed information, the report said.

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