How to Conduct Your Own Medical Research

According to Pew Internet & American Life Project, about 80% of all Internet users are using the Internet to search for a diverse range of health-related topics and the numbers continue to grow. This new study demonstrates that looking for health or medical information is one of the most popular activities online. Most frequently, people went online to search information about a specific disease or medical problem (63%) or a particular medical treatment or procedure (47%). Additionally, they were interested in diet, nutrition and vitamins (44%) and exercise or fitness information (36%). Other popular health topics include: prescription or over-the-counter drugs (34%); alternative treatments (28%); health insurance (25%); depression, anxiety or stress (21%), and a particular doctor or hospital (21%).

The Internet is not only changing the way patients get their medical information but also the way they communicate with their doctors. In a Journal of Health Communication study published in 2012, researchers reported that about 70% of patients said they were planning to ask their doctors questions about the information they found online, and about 40% said they had printed out information to bring to their appointment.

If done in the right way, researching medical information can benefit both you and your doctor by making you partners in care. Thus, contributing to the decision making process and to the adherence of patients to treatments and medication.

Understanding and integrating medical data is definitely a profession, but if you choose to ‘do it yourself’, here are some tips on how to collect and understand your medical research.

Asking the Right Questions

A research question is the fundamental core of a research project. It focuses the study, determines the methodology, and guides all stages of inquiry, analysis, and reporting. When starting your research, turn what you want to know and your specific concern into a question. Be focused and narrow the research questions as much as possible.

An exceptional number of factors need to be considered when conducting your own medical research. Among the numerous questions to consider include: What are the cutting-edge therapies? Am I eligible to such therapies? What should I know about this therapies? How will my body react to taking one of these medications? How are the different medications administered? Who is the right physician for me? What are the leading clinical trials? What about the costs or insurance? Should I consider complement therapy?

Most importantly, patients must recognize the need to prioritize their issues, questions, and concerns in order to maximize the time with their healthcare team.

Finding Helpful and Reliable Information

What do we know about the accuracy of online health information?

  • Some online sources of health information are useful, but others are inaccurate or misleading.

  • There are tons of commercial information which serves the marketing needs of the health industry and not necessarily your needs.

  • Health data is complex and the average layperson will find it hard to understand. Don’t hesitate to discuss it with your physician.

Some of the health information you’ll find online is in the form of news reports. Some of these reports are reliable, but others are confusing, conflicting, or misleading, or they may be missing crucial information. So how we know which information is reliable and which isn’t?

As a general rule, websites sponsored by federal government agencies — such as the National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus and PubMed— have official vetted information that’s easy to read and based on the latest medical research.

As for social media, patients share data on their conditions, treatment history, side effects, hospitalizations, symptoms, weight, mood, quality of life, clinical trials efficacy and more on an ongoing basis. Across the social media people connect with others who have the same disease or condition, track and share their own experiences, see what treatments have helped other patients like them, gain insights and identify patterns. Except of the well understood positive psychological effect of finding friends for battle, this might help you to establish a position regarding a specific treatment, clinical trial, physician and more.

Preparing for Your Appointment

To get the most out of your meeting with the doctor, plan ahead:

  • If you find medical information that you want to discuss about, print out only the most relevant parts.

  • As you read through your materials, write down any confusing words or information. Ask your doctor or other healthcare provider to review the medical research with you so that you understand how it might be helpful to you.

  • Make a list of questions, and prioritize them. If you don’t have time to discuss everything, ask whether you can follow-up by email or phone.

  • Remember that the sources you read will not go as deeply or thoroughly into any topic as the education and training that your doctors receive, so carefully consider any contradiction or other opinions that your doctor offers.

If you Get Lost, Find Someone to do the Research For You

Medical language is tough. Evaluating the right health resources requires experience. Understanding statistics is an art. A qualified researcher can cover a lot of materials with a relatively short period of time. Medical researchers can find trends and treatments that have the highest rates of success in the real world, but the secret of the best researchers is their ability to analyze the applicability of such data to your specific case. Because, at the end of the day, a Good clinical research is one that guides clinical decisions which affect your health and well being.

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