Latino Doctor Offers Tips to Evaluate Health Care Websites


Joseph Sirven, a first-generation Cuban-American, says that the Internet has fundamentally transformed the way he practices medicine, challenging the doctor-patient relationship.
In an interview with NBC Latino, Dr. Sirven said he sees examples of this relationship changing every day, from a patient who sought his opinion on their online search by presenting him with a beautifully bound notebook filled with blog clippings and reprints of new articles about treatments that promise to cure his or her disease to his providing websites to patient so that they can get a clearer understanding of their condition. He said he can see that the web has bridged the information divided between patients and health professionals, empowering individuals to take charge of their own health.
A professor and chairman of the department of neurology and past director of education for Mayo Clinic Arizona, Dr. Sirven said that his role as a doctor has changed from information provider to information manager and coach- a partnership with patients that provides context while explaining disease process and risk benefits of various treatments.
According to a 2009 Pew Hispanic Center report on Hispanics and healthcare in the United States, the rise of the Internet’s role in healthcare is evident in the Latino Community. The report said 83 percent of U.S. Latinos obtained some information about health from television, radio, newspaper, magazines or the Internet in the past year. This is particularly true for younger Latinos and for those with some college education.
With so many people providing advice it is easy to get misled without guidance over the validity of content. The following are seven tips that Dr. Sirven provided that will help patients evaluate health information form the Internet and utilize it during their medical appointments.

  1. Always look for a reputable source of information and how recent the information was updated or obtained: Just like the expiration label on food, things change quickly in healthcare. On the Internet, this means trusting those health sites that are useful for general medical information. These sites include,, and These websites provide broad general information that will help in patients deal with any number of issues or symptoms or disease related issues.
  2. If patients are interested in a particular disease or condition, there are many specific advocacy or medical organizations that also maintain the latest information and published clinical studies on their web sites. These websites can be easily found on any search engine and will provide excellent information that might help you and your doctor with regards to important treatment decisions.
  3. When discussing a health study that you found on the web with your physician, be certain the study or treatment being touted actually involved people in the trials and was not an animal study. In a 2003 study by Mayo Clinic and Arizona State University, 20 percent of all newspaper-based stories on neurological conditions had medical inaccuracies or exaggerations.
  4. When seeing your doctor, it is important that you write out specific questions about the Internet information you may have found.
  5. There are many excellent and reputable web sites from pharmaceutical or medical device companies that are appropriate to use. However be careful about websites that come from companies trying to sell you something
  6. Don’t diagnose yourself with a terminal illness based on one symptom and overload you doctor with a stack of Internet printouts to prove your medical prowess. Doctors are trained to take in numerous sources of information to make a diagnosis based on a complete clinical history and thorough physical examination taking into consideration your unique health profile.
  7. Using a common-sense approach when gathering your health information should improve your healthcare experience and hopefully enhance the relationship you have with members of your healthcare team to guide you to the best care possible.