A special series of blogs on Evidently Cochrane: “Oh, really?” 12 things to help you question health advice. Each blog highlights something important to consider when you’re faced with health claims.
Page last updated 9 May 2023.
Bombarded with health advice
We are faced with health claims and advice like this – whether it is about the benefits and harms of particular medicines, exercise regimes, or diets – all the time. We come across it in conversations with friends, family and colleagues, in the media, and while browsing the internet and social media.
In the Internet age, we have much greater access to health information. Yet how do we know whether what we’re told is accurate, fair and reliable? Making sense of health advice, and making judgements about whether it is trustworthy, can be challenging. It is also essential for us all. We all have to make decisions about our health, or the health of our loved ones and, when we do, it’s important that our decisions are well-informed. At best, if we make decisions based on unreliable information, we could waste our time and money. At worst, we could do something harmful, or miss opportunities to do things that could help.
How can we make sense of what we’re told about our health?
Being able to question what we read and hear about medicines and health, could equip us to make well-informed health decisions. To help us, a team of researchers known as the Informed Health Choices project team have developed a list of ‘Key Concepts’. Each ‘Key Concept’ is something which is important for people to consider when faced with a claim about a Something done with the aim of improving health or relieving suffering. For example, medicines, surgery, psychological and physical therapies, diet and exercise changes.. The team continually revise this list and currently there are 44 Key Concepts (the latest version (2022) can be seen here https://zenodo.org/record/6611932#.ZFplpi0w1Bw) to help people to:
- Recognise when a claim about the effects of treatments has an untrustworthy basis. For example when it is based on faulty logic or may be too good to be true.
- Recognise when evidence from comparisons of treatments is trustworthy and when it is not, to avoid being misled about the benefits and harms of treatments.
- Make well-informed choices about treatments. This includes making judgements about the relevance and importance of the evidence to you and how sure you can be about the treatment effects.
12 blogs about 12 things to help you question health advice
These Key Concepts are a useful guide to helping you question health advice, so we’re launching a new series of blogs about them. Whilst all 44 Key Concepts are important (the clue is in the name!), we have selected 12 of them, as the focus for 12 monthly blogs in this series. Each blog will explain and illustrate one Key Concept. Examples include ‘widely used treatments or treatments that have been used for a long time are not necessarily beneficial or safe’ and ‘personal experiences or anecdotes (stories) are an unreliable basis for assessing the effects of most treatments’.
Our bloggers will use examples from their own experiences, whether that is as a patient, a health professional or someone else making decisions about health and they’ll also use examples from Cochrane Reviews are systematic reviews. In systematic reviews we search for and summarize studies that answer a specific research question (e.g. is paracetamol effective and safe for treating back pain?). The studies are identified, assessed, and summarized by using a systematic and predefined approach. They inform recommendations for healthcare and research. to help explain each concept. Cochrane Reviews are globally recognized as the highest standard in evidence-based health care. They bring together all of the best available research on a particular health question, such as ‘are antibiotics effective and safe at reducing symptoms of a sore throat?’ Authors update Cochrane Reviews regularly to incorporate new research, so readers can base their treatment decisions on the most up-to-date and reliable health evidence. The aim is to point you to trusted information.
When and where to find the blogs
We published the first blog in the series on Monday 27th January and then one each month.
This series follows on from the success of a series of blogs written by a group of students for Students 4 Best Evidence. That series began in 2017, when the Collins Dictionary announced its word of the year to be ‘fake news’ . Three years on, concerns about being bombarded with dubious health information and advice are still very much alive. This series feels as timely as ever.
We hope these blogs will encourage you to question the evidence behind the claims you hear or read. Throughout the series we point readers towards useful resources to further help you question health advice and make informed choices.
With thanks to Informed Health Choices.