Check the Source of Online Health Information

When it comes to something as important as health and wellness, Texans seeking more information should always consult their doctor or licensed health care professional. According to a recent Pew Internet and American Life Project study, every day an estimated eight million Americans search the Internet for health care information. But Texans should never solely rely on a Web site to diagnose or treat a serious illness. Equally important, Internet users should always pay close attention to their information source.

Although many Web sites offer informative, helpful information about a variety of health and lifestyle issues, not every site can be trusted for accurate, factual material. Texans who consult the Internet for health care information should always pay close attention to whom or what operates their favored Web sites.

In some cases, what appears to be medically-oriented Web site may actually be an advertising tool for a third party with a financial incentive to exaggerate or downplay a product’s benefits or dangers. For example, Web-based law firm advertising is particularly common among Web sites that are dedicated to certain specific illnesses or prescription medications. In fact, a recent study by the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest noted that Internet searches for medical information produced results that were “dominated by Web sites paid for and sponsored by either class action law firms or legal marketing sites searching for plaintiff referrals.”

In contrast, an unbiased online information source might include a broader spectrum of data about a given subject matter. For example, Web sites created by reputable organizations like the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association often feature peer-reviewed medical journals and other impartial research sources. In addition, many government agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, impose similarly rigorous standards upon any research included on their Web sites.

But even trusted, verifiable online information cannot be relied upon to treat serious ailments or answer critical medical questions. Texans should always contact a licensed medical professional whenever their health is at risk. An in-person visit to a doctor’s office or local clinic is the best way to ensure patients are getting accurate information that is tailored to their unique health needs.

Texans who have encountered misleading or deceptive medically-oriented Web sites may file a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General by calling (800) 252-8011 or visiting our Web site at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.

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Greg Abbott
Attorney General of Texas

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ABOUT CONSUMER ALERTS - The Office of the Attorney General accepts consumer complaints about businesses. When a pattern of complaints warrants intervention, the Attorney General can file a civil lawsuit under consumer protection statutes, sometimes with the result that a company is required to pay restitution to consumers -- see our Major Lawsuits page. However, when a consumer is swindled by a con artist, filing a complaint cannot help. Civil litigation can sometimes put a very unscrupulous business out of action, but often cannot produce restitution.

Individual con artists generally fall under the jurisdiction of a criminal prosecutor -- in Texas, this is the district or county attorney. But even when they are charged and convicted, these individuals usually have spent the money as fast as they have stolen it. A person who is the victim of fraud should report the incident to the police or sheriff. But by far the best thing is for consumers to be aware of fraud, so they are not swindled in the first place. For this reason, the Office of the Attorney General posts these Consumer Alerts about possible scams and schemes that come to our attention through citizen contacts to our office or other sources.

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