Which health websites can you trust? | Life and style | The Guardian

Which health websites can you trust? | Life and style | The Guardian.

With online health advice ranging from the helpful to the hysterical, where should you turn when illness strikes? Health experts share the websites they recommend
Health websites
It is important to choose carefully when looking for health information online. Photograph: Guardian

Picture the moment. It is 3am and you have a really bad stomach ache. You are scared and in pain. “Time for Drs Google, Yahoo or Bing,” you think, typing your symptoms in to your favourite search engine. In England alone, there are 50,000 organisations offering web-based help in health and social care. They range from the evidence-laden to the random, the sensible to the crazed, and the helpful to the hysterical.

So how to make sense of it all? Nearly all of us – 87% in both the UK andthe US – use the internet, and searching for health information is one of the most popular activities. More than 80% of internet users seek health information or advice. The information is plentiful and free: only 2% of those seeking health information online in the US, for example, pay for it. But we are obviously wary – or perhaps healthily sceptical – of what we read online. A US survey by the Pew Research Center showed that the vast majority of people still ultimately rely on a doctor or healthcare professional for medical advice, 60% also ask relatives and friends and nearly a quarter ask people with the same condition.

But what if it is that 3am scare, and everyone is asleep? Which websites can you trust, and how can you tell? A range of healthcare experts share their tips and recommendations:


Police access to medical records will not help the vulnerable | Deborah Orr | Comment is free | theguardian.com

Police access to medical records will not help the vulnerable | Deborah Orr | Comment is free | theguardian.com.

The police are straying too far from their remit. The last thing they should do is take on responsibilities that belong to other agencies

Police want right to see medical records without consent

 

 

Woman filing medical records
‘If a person does not want the police involved, then in some cases that’s going to make them reluctant even to turn to their GP.’ Photograph: Sean Justice/Getty Images

 

The Greater Manchester chief constable, Sir Peter Fahy, has told the Guardian that the police want quick and easy access to medical and other confidential records without the consent of the individual concerned. In the light of other recent revelations about state incursion into private data, one is tempted to note that it’s nice of them to ask.

Before stating the obvious – that this sounds horribly Kafkaesque – it’s worth mentioning the positive side of all this. It’s a good thing the police now recognise that the majority of the people who come to their attention are vulnerable and find it hard to do what’s best for themselves, let alone what’s best for those around them. It was only 20 years ago, after all, that even Britain’s prime minister, John Major, was claiming “society needs to condemn a little more and understand a little less”. So this development signals a huge change in attitudes.

However, far from being an indication that the police need more power, it’s a sign that they are now straying too far from their remit, which is to maintain law and order. Fahy himself talks of having an ability “to solve the problem without a criminal justice system approach”.

On this, he’s dead right, even though his solution is an unwelcome one. The difficulty is that the police are already too embroiled in complex cases that may involve mental health problems, learning disabilities or addictions. That is the job of social workers. Fahy says the police do not have the manpower and resources they need to deal with the problems they are being asked to become involved in. The last thing we need is for them to have less clarity of purpose.

The issue is that other agencies – primarily mental health and social work services – are even more starved of investment than the police. Fahy, in essence, is allowing his thoughts to be guided by instincts of professional closure. He understands the police are involved in matters for which they are not equipped. But his answer is to equip them, not to call for others to become equipped. He does not see that his proposal would make the vulnerable even more so.

The dangers of this approach are most clear when considering Fahy’s most controversial example – that the police should be alerted to people suffering from domestic violence even if it isn’t what they want. If a person does not want the police involved, and the involvement of health professionals may trigger that anyway, then in some cases that’s going to make them reluctant even to turn to their GP.

That’s the trouble with passing on information without people’s consent. They become more reluctant to share any information at all, even when it is dangerous for them to keep things to themselves. On the contrary, people need to be able to get help before the police become involved. Too often, matters are allowed to reach a crisis before there is much in the way of societal intervention.