3 EVALUATE Key Points

  1. Medicine is not an exact science. Scientific studies cannot prove anything with absolute certainty; rather, they demonstrate the probabilityClick here for a definition of this term that treatments are effective or tests are accurate. Skills that help you read these studies with a critical eye - and critically evaluate reports of "new findings" - are important.
  2. There are two main types of research studies: observationalClick here for a definition of this term and experimentalClick here for a definition of this term (also known as interventionalClick here for a definition of this term). In observational studies, the researcher observes the effect of a test or treatment on a particular outcome. In experimental studies, the investigator controls the treatment or intervention.
  3. Watch for misleading information: claims that sound too good to be true; simplistic conclusions drawn from a complex study; recommendations based on a single study; dramatic statements that are refuted by reputable scientific organizations; recommendations made to help sell a product; recommendations based on studies published without peer review; recommendations from studies that ignore differences among individuals or groups.
  4. Find out, whenever possible, who sponsored a study. If you look at the original source, not only will you be better able to evaluate the information that is being presented but you will also be able to tell whether the sponsor will directly benefit from the findings.
  5. Study results are most valid when they are repeated in several other studies and over the course of several years.
  6. Unfortunately, there are no public safeguards as to what the media report, so readers beware! Your best approach is maintaining a healthy skepticism and understanding the criteria that must be met for a research study to be meaningful and applicable on a broad basis. Even if reporters don't routinely do so, remember to read the study limitations, check the funding sources, and make sure the story doesn't exaggerate the importance of the findings.
  7. The Internet can be a valuable source of accurate, reliable information. However, it also contains inaccurate and out-dated information that may not be obvious. Use your new skills of evaluation to distinguish "exaggerated claims" from reliable information and research reports.
  8. Remember to check the following when referring to health information Web sites: Who sponsors the Web site? What is the source of the health information? Is the site marketing products? How current is the information?

You've completed the second section of Health Compass. The third and final section, ACT, explains more about how to use available information to make decisions about your health care or lifestyle changes.