The amount of health information on the Internet is growing rapidly, with no end in sight. If you Google the word “health,” you will get more than 60 million websites.
Current estimates put the number of health-related websites on the Internet at about 100,000. These include academic sites, online journals, government sites, and health provider sites, along with numerous others from the general public to health professionals. This does not include almost countless numbers of sites that are sponsored by companies, including pharmaceutical companies and a host of other types of commercial enterprises, all selling something.
According to recent studies, almost 90 percent of Americans who can access the Internet have looked for health information online. But many studies and surveys have shown that much of the health-related information on the Internet is not the most accurate. Fraud is rampant, which includes making claims that represent a clear danger to people.
Even if the information is accurate, there are other problems that may lead to misunderstandings. For example, if the language is too complex or if there is a large amount of scientific data presented, a person might not understand or misinterpret the information.
Many people are concerned about the misleading, fraudulent and false information on the Internet. But there is no mechanism yet available to protect consumers from these abuses. So, the phrase “buyer beware” certainly applies here.
In fact, one physician tells his patients to keep three questions in mind whenever they look up health information on the Internet: Where did it come from? How up to date is it? Who put the information on the site?
Some of the most dangerous places where fraudulent health information exists online are the numerous fake pharmacies selling counterfeit drugs. It has been estimated that more than $75 billion in counterfeit drugs are sold over the Internet, more than double the amount five years ago.
The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy has examined more than 10,000 pharmacies doing business over the Internet and found that almost all of them violated some state or federal law, making them illegal in the United States. Another survey showed that about one-fourth of all consumers buy drugs online, but only about one-third had reservations about the drugs they bought.
Because of this, pharmacists and other health professionals tell patients that, to get the best, most accurate information, they should talk directly to a health care professional. And be very wary of what they see on the Internet.
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