Healthcare Literacy & The Internet

With the advent of internet as a readily accessible medium for anyone to promote their opinions, thoughts, and products, the state of medical discussion has transformed dramatically.

In years past, the average individual had little exposure to the world of healthcare. One might have spoken to their family doctor when necessary, but outside of the especially curious few, healthcare was a rarely discussed topic. In today’s world, anyone with a smartphone can access a nearly limitless amount of information regarding what’s new in the world of health and medicine. Although most would agree that this level of accessibility is an overall benefit to society, it’s not without its issues.

For every piece of information, there’s misinformation; for every well-researched or peer-reviewed study, there’s a fluff-piece disguised as objective “fact”. Unfortunately, much in the same way junk-food is often more tempting than taking the time to cook a balanced meal, it’s the fluff-pieces that garner the most attention of (far too many) consumers.

It’s natural that the most attention-grabbing headlines often seem the most profound, but this idea reinforces the need for the practice of media-literacy, and a discerning eye. On an individual level, there’s not much harm, or at least, permanent harm that comes from taking the wrong advice to heart.

On a broader level, however, new trends often generate momentum that’s difficult to defeat. Whether it’s a new diet fad or “detox” without a single shred of credible evidence to back it up, or one of the many COVID-19 related myths that’s circulated over the last year, unchecked usage of the internet as a healthcare tool has often led to detrimental results. Is the world better off with the internet and all of its resources at the consumer’s disposal? Almost undoubtedly.

To say it’s without risk, however, is plainly false. The need for media literacy, especially with regard to healthcare, is essential. With time, schools and universities will likely work to standardize this new type of literacy for their students. In the meantime, though, the burden falls on us- as healthcare professionals, as parents, and even as friends, to help guide the more vulnerable of us in the right direction.

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