Health & Wellness, Living with Breast Cancer

Is more information always better?

By Dr. Shelby Terstriep

August 27, 2013

Just as there has been a recent explosion of medical knowledge, there has been an equally overwhelming explosion of “resources” for patients on the web. The web can be a scary place for people with medical problems. It can tell you what you want to hear, or it can make you question everything.

After my last blog on second opinions, I got connected to Kimberly Byrd Lucas, a trained librarian who was going through breast cancer treatment. She commented that, because she was able to read quality resources on the web that correlated with her physician’s treatment plan, she felt comfortable not seeking out a second opinion. Kimberly felt that her training taught her to decide which sources are reputable. I couldn’t agree more. So I decided to curbside her!

I asked her, “How do you decide between a good and not-so-good medical source?”

KymPinkWig
Gosh, Shelby, it’s been a long time since I attended library school, so the criteria have become almost internalized. However, an authoritative source would be one that’s recognized by those in the field based on reliability, accuracy and currency.

I would ask myself the following questions:

Who wrote this information?

What is their background, education, expertise? Do others recognize them as a leader in their field? Or are they merely trying to sell books?

Who is the publisher of this information?

Generally I would question the information in a self-published book from someone who claims to be an expert. (Confession: I do plan to self-publish the “Cancer Lessons” from my blog as a memoir, but that’s different from claiming to be an expert on breast cancer.)

How current is this information?

If it has to do with science or medicine and is over five years old, throw it out. If it’s over three, verify with other research that the information is still accurate. And, please note – just because the information is on a website doesn’t mean it’s current, even if it was posted yesterday. The important thing to know is when it was written.

Also, if the information is on a website, is it a reputable site?

I tend to look for information posted by the government (NIH), nonprofit organizations and hospitals.

I don’t generally recommend the true medical journals for most people because few of us could understand them.

My current favorite source is an online source most hospitals and clinics have subscriptions to, called “Up To Date.” For clinicians, it has detailed information on most medical concerns that is updated real-time by experts in the field. I use this source about 20 times a day! It also has great patient handouts; one is the “Basics” and the other is “Beyond the Basics.” If you aren’t finding the information you need, it is okay to ask your doctor for these handouts.

For lighter reading, I love the magazine/website, Cure. They have a good mix of stories and practical medical information — and great art!

People often remember the most when it is from someone who has walked steps in their shoes, so blogs can also be an excellent source for practical tips. A couple of my favorite blogs are Kimberly’s Cancer Lessons and The Westra World.

Just like most things in life, more isn’t always better. . . favor quality over quantity any day!

So what’s your favorite online resource or blog???

  • Mike Thompson, MDPhD

    Shelby – Great discussion. A few potential resources and comments:

    A great review of how to be curious and critical of medical media (from 2009) “How to read health news”
    http://www.nhs.uk/news/Pages/Howtoreadarticlesabouthealthandhealthcare.aspx

    My comments about online patient communities in a Best Doctors blog (part 2 of a 3 part series):
    http://curbsideconsult.tumblr.com/post/58150080627/social-media-medicine-and-best-doctors-pt-2

    Also, there are TweetChats such as #bcsm (breast cancer social media)
    https://twitter.com/BCSMChat
    http://tweetchat.com/room/bcsm
    “The intersection of breast cancer and all things social media.
    Join us on Monday nights 9 pm ET.
    Chat moderated by @jodyms @stales@DrAttai”

    Thanks again for the great points.
    We are living in an evolving world. There are many changes ahead for both patients and physicians.

    Mike

    • Shelby Terstriep

      Thanks Mike! Love the sources you’ve recommended. It is an evolving world. . .Personally I love that we have to adapt to this “new normal.”

  • Kimberly J. Byrd Lucas

    Hi Shelby! Thanks for the nice mention of my blog, and for featuring my comments. I hope others will find this information useful! I’ve also now subscribed to Westra World and Cure. Mike, Loved the article about how to critical of “headline medical news.” It’s spot on!

    • Shelby Terstriep

      And thank you for the great tips!!! So great to connect with you!

      • Kimberly J. Byrd Lucas

        Ditto that! Thanks again!