Caring for Loved Ones at Home

An Illustrated, Easy-to-Follow Guide to Short or Long-term Care 4th Edition.

14. Judging the Value of Health Care News Reports

The media is filled with the latest news about health care studies and how they can affect your health and the health of those you love. Some reports are more valid than others. Here are some tips on what information is more trustworthy than others:

Check to see who sponsored the study. If a drug company or food company sponsors a study that shows that their product should be used by consumers, be cautious. Find out if they have independent sources to confirm their claim.

The size of the study is important. Some health care reports are based on a study of only a few people. Studies can be better trusted if they involve a lot of people with similar health care and cultural backgrounds as you. For example, a study of a few hundred people in Russia or Latin America may be relevant, or not. The study participants' diet and exercise norms may be more important than any medication they might have been taking in the study.

Some studies are based only on animal studies. To be really useful information to you, the study should involve human testing.

Some medication studies, for example, are more reliable based on how they conduct their research. Here are the different ways they can be done from more reliable to less reliable:

Double-blind study means that both the participants and the researchers do not know who is taking a medication and who is receiving a placebo (the control group).

Randomized study has the researchers randomly assign which participants get the medication and which get the placebo.

Clinical trial where humans are tested on the effects of a drug, treatment or procedure with no control group.

Prospective study has researchers choose healthy people and follow them over time to see what effects lifestyle (e.g., diet, exercise, 'bad' habits) have on their health. These studies can be very helpful if they are done over many years with large populations but may be restrictive in their application to individual patients. For example, following 10,000 healthy teachers may yield helpful information for the general population on some aspects of lifestyle but one has to wonder if the teachers' economic and educational backgrounds may affect the results and its applicability to less educated or poorer people.

Retrospective study whereby researchers examine medical records or interview patients to see if their medical history shows potential links to a disease. Depending on how detailed the study, the researchers may come up with links that are not accurate. For example, if more than 75% of patients with lung cancer also rode their bikes more than 3 times a week, does that mean there is a direct link? Of course not.

One way to ensure that the study is more reliable is to see if it was published in a highly valued journal and whether the results were reviewed by other experts in the field to ensure the study was done well and truly applies to a larger population. Even in such journals, some studies have slipped through the cracks with conclusions that do not hold the test of time and human experiences.

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Caring for Loved Ones at Home

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Copyright © 1996, 1999, 2002, 2006 Harry van Bommel

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