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Questioning the credibility of online patient stories

In a disconcerting post today on KevinMD, Lisa Gualtieri, PhD, ScM, warns the growing number of Americans searching for health information on the Web that online patient stories could be fake.

In light of last year's news that cosmetic surgery company Lifestyle Lift fabricated consumer testimonials, Gualtieri writes:

A hotly debated solution to discerning the credibility and reliability of health Web site content is seals. HONCode and U.R.A.C. are the seals that are best known for health Web sites, but many sites don’t have them, most people don’t know to look for them, and they don’t have widespread recognition...

...No matter which side of the seal debate you are on, seals do not authenticate individual patient stories. Unless you know the author of a story, you never know for sure if it is true. As Trisha Torrey points out, patients want to believe stories because they are desperate for information. Ultimately, most stories are from real people sharing authentic experiences, and the best way to weed out the others is to use common sense, be skeptical, check with a trusted medical professional, and remember that there are Lifestyle Lifts that haven’t been caught.

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