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Be Wary Of Medical Advice Given Online

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RALEIGH, N.C. — As the number of health-related Web sites soars, more people are turning to the Internet for advice, which raises concerns about the possible harm caused by incorrect information or information used incorrectly. However, a new study finds that in most cases that is not happening.

"We found only three cases of humans who were harmed by information found on the Internet, and we were very surprised with these low numbers," researcher Dr. Aljandro Jadad said.

Doctors in Toronto studied nearly 2,000 patient records, looking for reports of harm associated with Internet use. Of the three cases uncovered, one involved a man finding what he thought was a cancer cure. An autopsy suggested the drug probably killed him.

The other two cases were pregnant women who used the wrong keyword to get information. With only three examples, you may think health information on the Internet must be safe. However, Jadad said he is not ready to go that far.

"We need more information from real cases to learn from them and insure we maximize the benefits of the Internet while we minimize the potential harm," Jadad said.

Other research shows that half of those who find information on the Internet do not share it with their doctor. Experts say that is the most important thing you can do.

Researchers also found one instance of harm to pets. An owner used information retrieved from the Internet to treat heartworm for his three dogs. The treatment led to the animals requiring intensive care.