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Who pays the piper: web information you can't trust
About the author: 

It's the way you tell 'em, as one British comedian once said, but when it comes to medical information, it also depends on who's doing the telling

It's the way you tell 'em, as one British comedian once said, but when it comes to medical information, it also depends on who's doing the telling.

This problem came to light when researchers investigated 27 English-speaking and Scandinavian government and patient-group websites, and the advice they gave on mammograms. Mammograms can be painful, they can be highly inaccurate, and they can spread fear and alarm when neither is warranted.

But you would never have gleaned that from the websites that the Cochrane Centre in Denmark visited. Only three of the 27 even questioned the need for screening, while the vast majority recommended it without reservation.

The American Cancer Society site said that 'you should not feel pain' (no, you shouldn't, but you will, you will), and the Cancer Research UK site said it 'shouldn't be painful' (ditto), while a Scandinavian site, den Norske Kreftforening trilled that previous patients were 'so satisfied that they recommend fellow sisters to get x-rayed in this way' (presumably fellow sisters they hate).

The government-funded websites are unlikely to upset the current medical paradigm, but the researchers were disappointed by the advice contained on the websites of the patient groups, most of whom were industry funded, 'apparently without restriction'.

Apart from the few consumer-group websites, which provided an unblemished view of screening, the government and patient-group websites failed to provide acceptable standards for informed consent as stated by the General Medical Council in the UK.

And, if you're asking, What Doctors Don't Tell You is entirely independent, and is funded only by subscription and book-income from interested consumers. So, if you can find it in your hearts to make a small donation . . .

(Source: British Medical Journal, 2004; 328: 148-51).


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