Navigating the Media Maze of Health-Related Information

Basic Steps To Empower Patients As Consumers Of Health-Care Information

Today’s patients are living in a unique time in history with tremendous amounts of health information. Nurses can help patients to empower them to make wise health decisions and not fall prey to dangerous or false health-related information. There are some basic tips that nurses can teach their patients to get them started on the journey to responsible consumption of health-related information in the media.

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Basic Steps To Empower Patients As Consumers Of Health-Care Information

The 21st century is an amazing, yet potentially overwhelming, time to be a healthcare consumer. With the vast amount of health-related information that is as close as a few clicks on a keyboard, several swipes on a phone, or surfing through a few television channels, most patients have multiple avenues to find out information about becoming healthy, staying healthy and managing acute and chronic medical conditions. However, with so many routes to access health information, one can easily get confused or lost on the journey to ideal health and disease management. There is good news though: with a good roadmap on how identify and differentiate between high- and low-quality information, as well as an experienced guide (one’s healthcare providers) to help along the way, one can use the numerous sources of media information to augment their health knowledge and assist them in being an informed and engaged health care consumer. Nurses are in an ideal position to help educate the healthcare consumer, our patients, on how to safely navigate the maze of information available to them. There are several steps simple steps to take to make sure that the health care information one is consuming is truthful and high quality and may be beneficial.

Step One: Seeking and Finding Consistently Dependable Sources of Information

One important first step is to take time and identify several websites that are from trusted healthcare sources and focus the bulk of one’s search for information on these websites or sources these trusted sites recommend for further reading. Examples of these types of sources can include the National Institute of Health’s website, NIH.gov, or healthfinder.gov. Healthfinder.gov is a site with a wealth of information for consumers of healthcare on topics such as the prevention of disease (cancer, diabetes, heart disease), recommended preventative health services and screenings, vaccines, pregnancy, nutrition, and physical activity. Additional sites to consider can include healthcare system-specific sites, either the local system where one seeks healthcare, or sites of well-known systems such as the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, or The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, to name a few.

Nurses can help patients identify which types of sites may be useful sources of information for them to start looking at on their journey to becoming more informed about health and disease management. Accessing the information on the types of sites above can provide a good starting point for improving health knowledge and avoiding pitfalls of erroneous or dangerous information.

Step Two: Asking the Right Questions

The next important step is to recognize that if one watches television, reads magazines (virtual or hardcopy), participates in any social media sites (facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, etc.), or even talks to friends and family, one will undoubtedly come across information at some point on the topic of health and illness that will need to be scrutinized to determine if it is helpful or harmful.

NIH.gov provides a great and easy-to-remember framework for analyzing online sources that can be applied to about any source of health-related information. Their framework uses the concept we all learned in grade school for information to ask about a topic: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. Here are the basics of what the NIH.gov source referenced below recommends one asks when deciding if information is quality and can be considered dependable by healthcare consumers:

  • Who is putting out the information and what is their role (sales, health system, etc.)? Are they trustworthy?
  • What does the source claim is true? Does it sound reasonable or too good to be believable?
  • When did the information come out? Is the information up to date?
  •  Where did it come from? Is it based on science or opinion?
  • Why is the source putting this information out there? Are they trying to sell something? Are they an insurance company trying to keep its participants healthier? Think, “What is their motive in putting this information out there?”

Lastly, while one’s best friend or colleague or aunt (or anyone really) may have strong opinions about something in healthcare or know someone who has experienced something similar to what one is going through, it is critical to remember that each person is an individual and allowing someone else’s opinions or experiences to strongly dictate what one does with their personal health care decisions can be detrimental. It is okay to value and respect someone without adopting their opinions about what is right for one’s own health, and nurses can help patients to understand this and to think of ways to help decline unsolicited health advice without damaging important relationships.

Step Three: Securing Healthcare Providers Willing to Discuss Health Information from Media Sources

A final but especially crucial step in getting the most out of health information in the media without falling prey to false, dangerous, or low-quality health information is to have a healthy, collaborative relationship with one’s healthcare providers. A good healthcare provider will strive to stay up to date on the latest medical and nursing information necessary to keep their patients optimally healthy and, when disease does occur, manage that disease with updated, evidence-based care. They should also be comfortable with their patients asking questions about the health information the patient is consuming in the media, and they should be good communicators to help the patient determine which information may be helpful to their care and which information would not be, and why. Finding a healthcare provider that one has this type of collaborative relationship with can help a patient safely navigate their health journey and maintain control over their healthcare decisions. As nurses, many patients place trust in us, and supporting the patient to honestly share their questions without fear of being judged or dismissed is an important part of our role.

Again, it is an empowering time to be a healthcare consumer given the availability of such a wealth of health-related information to guide patient care and help consumers be well informed about their healthcare. However, consumers of health-related information should keep the following in mind:  

How to Use Health Information in the Media to Make Healthcare Decisions

  • Find several trusted sources (websites, news outlets etc.) to get the bulk of one’s health information from.
  • Evaluate all information to determine if it is high quality, from trusted sources, and based on science.
  • Remember, other people's experiences and health issues are theirs, not one’s own, and can provide information to consider but each person experiences health and disease individually.
  • Having good and open communication with one’s healthcare providers is critical to helping one consider which health information should inform their healthcare decisions and which should not.

Using the above guidelines as a map to help evaluate health information in the media and inform decision-making can help one arrive safely at the destination of optimal health, wellness, and disease management and nurses can and should empower patients to learn these and other techniques for finding high-quality health-related information in the media.


References

National Institutes of Health, “Finding and Evaluating Online Resources,”  Accessed 11/21/22 

US Department of Health and Human Resources, My Healthfinder, Accessed 11/21/22 

Julie Findley, APRN-CNP, MSN; Julie Findley is an APRN practicing in inpatient Hospice Care for a large non-profit hospice organization in Cleveland, Ohio.

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DarRNwriter, RN

1 Article; 2 Posts

Specializes in Freelancer, Long Term Care, geriatrics, management. Has 40 years experience.

Very informative article Julie. Great job!