Making decisions about your health

It is not always easy to make decisions about what is best for your health. The internet is full of information about health problems, diseases and illness but how do you know if the information is reliable or accurate? The different ways to find advice, questions to ask about whether a website is reliable and choosing a health professional are all discussed.

What are the options?

There may be a number of options available to you when making decisions about your health or if you need to manage or treat a condition. Which option is best needs careful assessment by you in consultation with your doctor. There are a number of factors and questions it is worthwhile considering when assessing a health care decision:

  • What are the options?
  • What could happen if you do nothing?
  • How much do your symptoms impact on your quality of daily life?
  • What are the risks and benefits of each option?
  • How do the benefits and risks weigh up for you?
  • Have you gathered enough information to make your decision?
  • Is the information reliable, up to date and based on medical evidence?
  • Have you discussed the options with a trusted health practitioner?
  • Have you discussed the options with others you trust?
  • What has worked for you in the past?
  • What does your own knowledge and experience tell you is the right choice for you?
  • Does the choice fit with your personal values?
Others How will your decision affect your family or partner?
Next steps Do you need counselling to assist you to put your decision into action?

Internet health information

The internet gives women access to health information and education tools. The internet offers the opportunity to:

  • get more information about a diagnosed condition
  • get more information about a medical treatment
  • search for alternative treatments
  • seek support from others who have the same condition
  • look for patient support programs

To assist you to make decisions about your health, you need to be able to assess which website offers the more reliable information.

Website reliability checker

To assess which organisations and websites offer more reliable information, you can check a website against the following criteria:

Assessment question Indicators the website is less reliable Indicators the website is more reliable
Who owns the website?
  • The website is owned by a business with a product to sell
  • The website has been sponsored by a business with a product to sell
The website is a government health website e.g. Better Health Channel, Healthdirect Australia or a not-for-profit website.
Why has the website been created?
  • The website offers an online diagnosis
  • The website offers treatment
The focus of the website is information, education and access to further resources about health conditions.
How easy is it to understand the information? The information seems confusing with a lack of attention to detail and accuracy. The information seems clear, accurate and authoritative.
Is the information up to date?
  • There is no statement about when the information was last reviewed and/or updated
  • The website says the information was last reviewed and/or updated more than 2 years ago
The website identifies the date the content was last reviewed and updated and that was less than 2 years ago.
How reputable is the source of information?
  • The website has no HONcode certification*
  • The website does not provide easily accessed contact details
  • Neither the editorial policy nor  the authors' experience in health and medical information is identified
  • The website has HONcode certification*
  • The website provides easily accessed contact details
  • The editorial policy and the authors' experience in health and medical information is identified
Is the information supported by evidence-based practice?

Recommendations for the management or treatment of a health condition are not supported by references to medical research about the effectiveness of the treatment.

Recommendations for the management or treatment of a health condition are supported by references to medical research about the effectiveness of the treatment.

*The HONcode is a code of ethics used by a website to provide the public with quality, objective and transparent medical information.

Ask your doctor

The internet is a great source of information to help you manage or research a condition or treatment but it is not reliable for self-diagnosis or self-treatment of a health problem. If you have symptoms that worry you, if you are not sure about the reliability of the information you have found on the internet or if you find medical information you think is relevant to you, seek advice from your doctor.

Choosing a doctor or other health professional

Ideally, you need a health professional you can talk to and you can trust to give you good advice. Asking the following questions might assist you to assess whether your doctor is the right choice for you:

Choosing your health professional
  • Do they have expertise in relation to your health concern?
  • Do they have qualifications and/or accreditation/registration in the areas they will be advising you about?
  • How easy will it be for you to travel to them for an appointment?
  • Do they offer appointments at times that work for you?
  • Is the cost of an appointment acceptable?
  • Do they listen to you in a way that suits you?
  • Do they talk with you in a way that suits you?
  • Do they ensure you are involved in the decisions to be made about your health care?

Appointments with doctors & other health professionals

It is not always easy to make a relationship work especially if people are time poor, unfocused or do not have the information they need and want from each other. This awareness applies to relationships with health professionals too. There are easy things you can do to help ensure your doctor and you have constructive conversations.

Making health appointments work
  • Be clear about your needs when you make your appointment
  • If you have several health concerns, ask for a longer appointment or make more than one appointment
  • Call ahead to see if the doctor is running on time
  • Allow additional time for unexpected delays

Take a list of:

  • your medications
  • past operations
  • recent tests
  • supplements or herbal products you are taking
  • how much alcohol you drink a week
  • if you are still smoking, how many per day

Further information is available

Last updated 24 July 2017 — Last reviewed 17 February 2014

** Currently under review **

This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at February 2014.

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