Can you trust your health news on the Internet?

How does one decide which news portal is trustworthy...

The 21st century is an era of all pervading technology and the internet. The internet is used for almost everything. Incidentally, the percentage of people watching online news is greater than the percentage of people watching news on television. Simultaneously there is a sheer decline in the sale of newspaper copies in the country compared to the 20th century. It is interesting to note that the distribution of newspapers is also restricted on flagship national holidays like Independence Day, Republic Day and some major festivals. The ongoing pandemic has reiterated the logistical and practical limitations of newspapers as during the first two weeks of the national lockdown there was very limited circulation. Newspapers are also not an option for students living in PGs or hostels and the poor who cannot afford television sets and DTH dues. Moreover, some people prefer accessing news on smart phones for the sheer ease of use.
Consequently,there are thousands of online news portals delivering news. TRPs are a must for a successful news portal and for achieving greater TRPs it creates the maximum number of engagements and ties up with advertising companies for revenue generation.
Given this backdrop, it sometimes becomes difficult for people to trust online news. The apprehensions become more acute when the subject of the news portal is as sensitive as healthcare. So can the internet be a reliable source of information as far as health is concerned? How does one decide which website is trustworthy?
The National Institutes of Health website is a good place to start for reliable health information. Apart from this, health websites sponsored by Federal Government agencies are credible sources of information. The list of sponsored websites can be found on Google. Large professional organisations and well-known organisations like World Health Organisation, Indian Medical Association, UnitedHealth Group can also be trusted. However, in each of the cases a certain measure of user discretion is advisable. Facts declared by researchers from prestigious institutes like Harvard School of Medical Science and Bharat Biotech are a safe bet.
A hallmark of trusting an article on a healthcare news portal is to check the credentials of the writer along with the reviews. Cross checking if the writer (of the information or analytical piece) is an expert in the field or not is a great way of verifying the credibility of any health centric news. Most of the portals always tell you the source of their health information- where it came from and how and also when and by whom it was reviewed. Therefore you can always cross check whether the reviews are by serious healthcare professionals. The authentic and credible portals will also always have an email number or phone number for correspondence. Lastly, you should also be careful about the testimonials.In addition to these, check how often the portal publishes its news, how updated the information is and how many people follow it. These factors make a huge statement as people automatically trust a news portal which is updated, frequent and provides correct information. When it comes to healthcare news you should understand whether the portal is merely trying to sell healthcare products and services through its articles or whether it is genuinely trying to establish facts. Scientific efficacy of hard facts and figures is a must.Therefore it is always advisable to read the policy of the website. Also you should keep a check on whether the website provides a quick and easy solution for health care or makes you browse for a longer time than necessary!
A hallmark of trusting an article on a healthcare news portal is to check the credentials of the writer along with the reviews
There are a lot of healthcare apps these days, which can help you track your eating habits, physical activity, test results, or other information. Online doctors are made available for all kind of queries and the market for telemedicine is rising exponentially. However, before trusting an app, you should inquire about the background and qualifications of the doctors. Also, you should be aware of who built the app and when and be conversant with its basic purpose. What information you share while registering in the app and its privacy policy should be checked.
Representative image
Image: Representative image
Social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, are online communities where people connect with friends, family and strangers.
Sometimes, you might find health information or health news on social media too. Some of this information may be true, and some of it may not be. Understand that just because a post is from a friend or colleague it does not necessarily mean it's true or scientifically accurate. The internet may get flooded with fake health centric information. The purpose of this fake information is always invariably creating panic or hatred or causing stress to a certain group of people. Therefore checking the source of the information and making sure the author is credible is a great move.
Fit Northeast spoke to a few people to understand their apprehensions and convictions related to healthcare news online."Health is the most important sector in the current era. During this ongoing pandemic we are all constantly searching the internet for news and developments. Different news portals are forthcoming with statistics in relation to Covid specific government surveys and initiatives. However, often the information shared by the news portals conflict with the information shared by people residing in the locality where the survey was undertaken. This naturally translates to a trust deficit in terms of the news portal," says Sohit Khari.
"The internet is the most common thing in today's world but when it comes to a check up of an elderly person, an actual physical appointment shall always be preferred over an online appointment." This was a common sentiment of several people."If the question is about the internet being a reliable source of information in terms of health, I would say the ratio of yes and no is approximately 70-30. Mostly the published facts are true however, sometimes the news is fabricated," says Brigu Soud.

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