Pitfalls of Relying on Unregulated Health Websites for Medical Information

Health care

My doctor has a poster prominently displayed in his clinic’s waiting area. It says “If you’ve already consulted Dr Google, then you don’t need to see me!”

While it’s certainly every patient’s right to be in control of their healthcare services and to stay informed, there is a serious downside to getting on to the information superhighway and conducting your own research, diagnosing the problem and medicating yourself.

An American study conducted in 2023 is quite an eye-opener. It reveals that more than 70% of people embark on their journey as a patient by searching online first. A huge majority of people use social media to discuss personal healthcare issues and this trend especially spiked during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Worldwide, there are an estimated 70,000 healthcare related searches conducted per minute. As long as the goal is only information seeking, it remains a harmless and sometimes useful exercise.

Benefits of Health Websites

A reliable, well-designed health and wellness website like Rest and digest can be a boon to consumers. It provides swift responses to common queries, offers contact details of key personnel and their qualifications, what services are offered, and how to access them.

Many healthcare websites offer the latest information on relevant topics, research information, different treatment options available and educational articles. Some have chatbots and virtual assistants that give timely reminders to take your medication, or answer routine queries. You can avail of telemedicine options, schedule appointments and maintain digital records.

Accessing health information helps patients with serious conditions such as cancer to feel more in charge of their treatment. Knowledge and a deeper understanding of side effects helps them to cope better with the treatment process. Linking with online health care services enables better compliance with medication regimes. It helps patients to feel empowered, and that their treatment is part of a team effort.

Apart from serious conditions, most people today conduct routine searches for wellness, nutrition and fitness information. There is a huge proliferation of websites in these sectors today, and it’s crucial to stay alert and vigilant while accessing them.

Hazards of Relying on Unregulated Health Websites

When you’re watching your favorite TV show and an ad pops up, you know exactly what it is – it’s a product promotion. However, many healthcare websites sneak in ads subtly in the form of education or information. These could contain statistics, graphs, patient testimonials, Before and After photos and more. You may not be aware that this material is promotional in nature, and designed to nudge you into purchasing certain products.

The main issue with such indirect advertising is that the viewer is usually in a slightly more vulnerable and suggestible state because the nature of the information is health related. We tend to be more inclined to believe or trust in such situations.

Another study found that almost 40% of healthcare websites have mistakes in their contact information and addresses and many of them don’t have a local listing. This makes it difficult to contact them in case of unsatisfactory outcomes.

You’ve probably noticed how your own mind reacts whenever you read medical information. The symptoms seem to eerily match your own, whether it’s cancer or a skin rash! This could lead to self-medication, consulting unregulated or unlicensed alternate medicine resources, trying home remedies that may not work, and a general increase of stress and anxiety.

Some health websites are not managed or owned by qualified medical practitioners. They offer a combination of traditional or alternative medicine, folklore treatments, home remedies, unverified and unscientific literature and products that have not been clinically tested.

When you browse through health care websites like healthline.com you are flooded with a variety of opinions and advice. Since you’re already anxious or dreading the worst, you may end up self-diagnosing a problem to be more serious than it actually is. As lay persons we don’t have the experience or training to make accurate medical diagnoses. We don’t know what tests should be taken or how to read the test results.

Some websites may not be secure. You could share confidential and personal information on them and end up becoming victims of a scam or financial fraud. Health care websites and apps are increasingly becoming the target for unscrupulous people for data theft, blackmail and extortion. Stealing health care records is a lucrative business and a breach in security can result in your personal information being exposed to criminals.

Apart from these, the real harm to your well-being from consulting unregulated health websites for medical information comes from unnecessary visits to your doctor to confirm what you’ve read online, delays in seeking treatment because you’ve tried several products or procedures you saw on a website, mistrust of your doctors, frequently shopping around for medical advice, and worst of all, no peace of mind.

Medical advice on social media is to be approached with greater caution. Mental health advice can range from prescribing “herbal” preparations to dangerous dependence on a pseudo-scientific health care service provider. It’s important to consult reliable health websites like. They may be government managed or by a team of qualified medical practitioners. Look for the name of the author in medical advice articles, and their qualification. Spelling and grammar errors are a red flag that indicate poor quality websites. If products are being advertised, the site should be upfront about this.

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