Arm yourself with information

You can help get the most out of your visit to the doctor's office and play an active and involved role in your own well-being by being an informed patient. Arming yourself with knowledge has a number of benefits for both you and your doctor. It can help you to focus any questions you may have and can improve your understanding of what your doctor has to say.

But with so much health information out there, how can you tell what's reliable?

There are a number of strategies you can use to try to sort facts from fiction:

Be as specific as possible. If you are looking online, a search for a common affliction could turn up thousands if not millions of results. But the more you refine your search using specific terms, the less information you will have to weed through.

Know who to count on. When it comes to the Internet, the myths may far outnumber the facts. So how can you tell which sites have got it right? Consider your sources. Medical associations, universities, hospitals, and disease-related societies often offer unbiased, reliable information. On the other hand, if an article seems to be pushing a particular product or remedy, it could be biased.

Understand the science. You don't need to have a medical degree to know some key things to look for when it comes to assessing the reliability of a study. Credible studies should be published in a journal that requires a review by medical experts. How a study is designed also makes a difference. For example, when it comes to clinical studies assessing the effectiveness and safety of a medication, look for studies that are randomized, controlled and double-blind, and have a large study population. This means that subjects are randomly broken into at least two groups – one of which receives the treatment in question and another that receives the standard treatment or a placebo (inactive "sugar pill") – and neither the treatment administrators nor the subjects know who is getting which treatment, so as not to influence the outcome.

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