KEEPING UP WITH THE NEWS—-SEPARATING FACT FROM FICTION

Where do you get news about issues related to health and healthy habits? The Internet? Magazines? Newspapers? Television? Any of these might be a good source if you know what to look and listen for.  The National Institutes of Health (www.nih.gov) offers some questions to help you tell fact from fiction.

Who Is Putting Out The Story?

Whenever you are looking for information or the latest advice on a topic, consider the source.  Who is producing the information?  For example, when you find information on the Internet, who runs the Web site that publishes the story?  You should be able to find a link to an “About” section on most Web sites.  That link should take you to a page that tells you who sponsors or pays for the site.  Often, you can tell who sponsors the site by the URL typed into the address bar.  Addresses that end in .gov are government agencies, and addresses ending in .edu are schools.  Both of these are generally trustworthy sources of information.  Not-for-profit organizations usually have .org at the end of their Internet addresses.  Some not-for-profit organizations are unbiased; however, others may have a particular position on a topic that causes them to slant the story in their favor.  You may have to investigate your source to determine whether  or not they are telling you all sides of the story.

When getting your information in print, you might want to consider the type of publication you are reading.  Are you looking at a reputable news magazine or a tabloid known for celebrity gossip?

What Do They Want From You?

This question really relates to Web sites that ask for you to offer information about yourself.  Be cautious about the personal information you provide, especially sensitive health care information.  A Web site may have a link to a section that explains its privacy policy.  It may be marked “Privacy” or “Privacy Policy”.  Read the privacy policy.  It will tell you what the Web site owners plan to do with your information.

When Was The Information Released, Posted, Or Reviewed?

Obviously, you want current information to make sure you are getting the latest news.  But staying on top of the news is only one reason to look for articles that are up-to-date.  Reliable sites tend to keep their news reports fresh.  On many Web sites, you can look for a date that tells you when material was posted or the last time it was reviewed.

Where Are They Getting Their Information?

In addition to asking who is providing the information, you should ask where they got their information.  The source should be identified clearly in the story.  An article may credit researchers at a university or a government agency.  Or you may be hearing from an expert spokesperson from a professional organization, like the American Dental Association.  You will want to know whether the story is based on research or policy.  If it is research, the authors should identify clearly who conducted the study and what was being studied.  Some stories are testimonials based on the experience of one or more people.  Keep in mind that these are the experiences of individual people and may not reflect accurate health care information for a large segment of the population.

Why Are They Putting Out This Information?

Who stands to benefit if people take the advice provided in the story?  Is the goal of the article to get you to sign on to a cause?  Are the authors trying to sell you something?  Any of these can bias coverage of a topic.

Other Pointers

Here are some other tips that might help you safely assess health care information:

Steer clear of remedies that rely on “secret ingredients”or promise a “miracle cure.”

Look for the word “advertisement” at the edge of the article.

Most importantly, talk to your dentist or physician.  Do not be afraid to tell them about new treatment options you may have read about or lifestyle    changes you would like to try.  Your health care providers often are knowledgeable about the science behind the story, but most importantly they are knowledgeable about you and your health care history.

There is a wealth of information available through a number of sources.  Work with your health care provider to determine what information is most useful to you.

 

 

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