The Pros and Cons of Online Medical Advice Websites

Suzanne Lucas

The Pros and Cons of Online Medical Advice Websites

You want your employees to stay on top of their health, and it makes sense that they would turn to the internet to help them do it. But while online medical advice and resources can be helpful in certain circumstances, in others it can result in wasted time and unnecessary stress.

Here’s a run-down of the pros and cons of online medical advice and some ideas for how you can help your employees navigate health information on the web.

The Pros

The number of submitted claims will help keep your health insurance costs low, so encouraging employees to turn to the web before they make a doctor’s appointment can help you save. Finding out through a quick Google search that a temperature of 101 isn’t likely to require a trip to the doctor, for example, represents a smart use of everyone’s resources.

Likewise, a pregnant woman can follow a helpful online guide to track the progression of her pregnancy like and understand what she can expect, reassuring her that everything is OK. And an employee who received a diagnosis at the doctor’s office but forgot exactly what was said can look things up to clarify their questions.

The internet can also provide employees with community and support. If an employee has been diagnosed with a chronic condition, an online community can help them weigh their care options and improve their emotional well-being.

In these ways, online medical resources can help your employees avoid the expenses of an unnecessary trip to the doctor and can help them manage their own health proactively. All that said, there are certainly a few cons to keep in mind.

The Cons

The first drawback of online medical advice is that not all websites are created equally. Some appear to be authentic and trustworthy but are actually run by or crowdsourced through people without any medical or scientific credentials.

While vaccinations, for instance, are an important part of keeping your employees and their families healthy, there are plenty of sites dedicated to promoting sensational misinformation about the negative effects of vaccines — using outdated, discredited or purely anecdotal studies to do so.

Another problem with online medical advice is that a little knowledge — especially if it’s wrong — can be quite dangerous. Performing a useful online search takes a baseline of medical knowledge that many people don’t have. This is why the crude “Google my symptoms” technique often results in frightening and inaccurate self-diagnoses, which may in turn lead employees to rush to the doctor anyway, only to find out that they’re perfectly healthy.

By that same token, though, it’s not hard to find whatever answer you’re looking for online, and some employees may gravitate to online sources that allow them to ignore or play down their symptoms rather than seeking care they actually need.

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What Online Resources Should Your Employees Use?

If you want employees to be smart about their health care, you may need to help them focus their independent use of online resources.

First, health insurance companies often have their own informational websites and guides. Even better are nurse hotlines and other forms of telemedicine where you can call and get your questions answered by someone with a true medical background.

Encourage your employees against using Wikipedia-style crowdsourced sites that aren’t subject to trustworthy review, and help them learn to differentiate credible from suspect sources of information — for example research-backed pages on hospital web portals versus ungrammatical articles on sketchy sites trying to hawk miracle cures. (Hint: If they say it cures everything, it really cures nothing.)

Helping your employees find a balance between taking control of their own health and turning it over to their doctors is worth any effort it might take. A more educated workforce is a healthier workforce.

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