Women's Health Base

A look at women, the world and the web

5 Reasons Health Forums are a Bad Idea

Posted by hannahflynn on July 15, 2009

1) It’s not medical advice – Obvious, but something which is often forgotten. People responding to your queries or the queries of others are offering an opinion, not medical knowledge. Plus, though some forums such as Yahoo! Answers has a system which allows medical experts to identify themselves, there are few ways of authenticating the claims of respondents.

2) It’s US dominated – Fair enough if you are living in the United States and have very comprehensive medical insurance, but many people don’t fall into this category. Therefore anybody without patient choice, i.e. most European individuals, are unlikely to be able to use a lot of the ‘get  a second opinion’ advice. The same goes for people without medical insurance in the United States.

3) The anecdote rules – Have you heard the one about the 44 year-old woman who had been trying to conceive through IVF for years and then after giving up, conceived healthy twins? Well it was a one-off and it’s probably not going to happen to you. These forums almost never quote statistics but provide you with stories about how one ‘cure’ worked for someone. Its worst on pregnancy forums too. Every single twinge, absence of twinge, weird feeling and bodily function is analysed within an inch of its life by expectant mothers. Useful for support perhaps, but dangerous if used in place of medical advice at such a vulnerable time.

4) The advice is narrow – As few of the respondents are likely to be medical experts the range of potential causes and complications being discussed is exceedingly narrow. Most threads come to the conclusion the subject is either pregnant or has endometriosis. Sometimes polycystic ovaries. And fften advice is given with only minimal background information provided. A doctor, nurse or midwife is indispensable when it comes to taking medical backgrounds and using them appropriately to diagnose rarer or more complicated problems.

5) It will tell you what you want to hear – Type ‘late period’ into Google and the world will tell you that you are undoubtably pregnant. No matter what your background or circumstances, that is what they will say. Why? Because the internet is dominated by pregnancy forums with women desperate to get pregnant. I recently found a forum where a women who had experienced cramps and bleeding (i.e. a period) was told this was a sign of early pregnancy by numerous women who had experienced the same thing when they were trying. This is confusing and simplified at best, and dismissive and dangerous at worst.

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