This week is ‘Health Information Week’, an annual awareness week which focuses on finding and accessing appropriate and reliable health information. Like ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ which we saw back in May, these awareness events have even more relevance this year. Looking after our whole health, whether it be mental health or physical health is very important.
The focus for this year’s ‘Health Information Week’ is twofold – ‘Finding Trusted Information’ and ‘Well-being’.
So, what is Health Information?
Health information covers physical health and mental health and anything that supports our well-being. Information about getting healthy, keeping healthy and supporting a good level of health, whatever your starting point. Living with a long-term condition and maintaining the best health you can is just as important.
Finding Trusted Information
Although a relatively new term, ‘fake news’ or false information as I prefer to describe it, has been around for a very long time. Incorrect information is something that has been spread throughout history; sometimes by accident, sometimes on purpose, sometimes with a good heart and sometimes with malicious intent. With the advent of the internet and easy and readily available information at our fingertips, the spread of incorrect as well as correct information has become both easier and faster.
The internet has brought lots of positives to the world of health information. We can search for information and take control of our own health. We can reach out and talk to other people. Taking ownership of and responsibility for our health is important and can be a key factor in enabling us to live and maintain good, healthy lives (wherever our health happens to sit). It allows us to take charge of and look after ourselves in a way that previous generations did not have.
Along with those positives come negatives too. Finding reliable and correct information on health subjects (as well as other areas in life) is great but the internet is vast. Where do we start? It is worth a reminder here that anyone can put information online – create a website, post on a forum, write on a blog (hey there!) or post on social media. Ultimately, we don’t know who that person is or what experience or qualifications they have. There are reputable, good-hearted people out there who only want to help but on the flip side, there are also some not very reputable people too. Your health, mental or physical, is not something that you should risk by taking advice from someone with a handle such as @DRicanhelpIpromise96900011! (I have checked and no such handle exists!)
So, being able to search the vast world wide web for health information is great but how do we know that what we are looking at is trusted?
As a starting place there are some simple questions we can ask.
1. How did you find it?
A lot of us use Google as our method of navigating the internet but Google is a company and uses adverts which will be prominent and mostly come up first in your search results. They want you to buy stuff. Look at the results carefully before clicking.
Was it recommended? If so, who by and why? Are they connected to the website/product?
2. What is the website address?
You can tell a lot about a website by its address. Website URLs that end in ‘.org.uk’ are non-profit organisations or charities; ‘ac.uk’ are academic institutions such as universities; ‘gov.uk’ are government departments and ‘nhs.uk’ are pages from the NHS.
Anything that ends in ‘.co.uk’ or ‘.com’ are commercial companies.
3. Who has written this information?
So, leading on from the question above, who are they? Do they have an agenda or bias?
Are they a company? Do they want to sell you stuff? A company’s core aim will be to sell you their product. This may be a good product and it may help but their prime motivation is to make money so be critical.
An academic or research group will generally be more reliable. Most scientists (shout out to my brother who is one) will be looking for the truth, whatever that turns out to be but it’s still worth being aware that they are human and may have bias in their research.
Most non-profit organisations are charities but again, even they, with no malice intended, may promote treatment or products where research hasn’t confirmed or supported its benefits.
Who is the author? Do they list their qualifications and background? Can you check to see if these are correct?
4. What else can you look out for?
- How old is the website? When was it last updated? Information from four or even three years ago can be a long time in the medical world. There is usually a ‘last updated’ date somewhere on the website to indicate how current it is.
- Does it reference its sources? What case studies does it cite? Do they refer to reputable journals or studies?
- Is the site transparent in who is running and operating it? There is normally an ‘About Us’ tab or page which clearly states a website’s aims and objectives, its authors and owners.
- Are there adverts on the page? If so, is it clear which they are? It’s very easy to accidentally click on advert links on pages that use advertising to fund themselves (yes, this is from personal experience)
- Do they talk about the pros and cons of the treatment/product? Do they mention the benefits and risk? Side effects?
Health can be a very emotive topic and even the best of us can find ourselves pulled into a desperate search for information (hi!). But it is important to make sure we get not just information but the right information.
Finding Health Information in Books
Of course, as I work for Warwickshire Libraries, I’m not just going to talk about the health information you can find online. Nope, I am also going to shout about the information that you can find in books!
There are some great titles out there in the health field. Most published books will have gone through a system of fact checks and verification before publication. However, as with websites, we still need to be critical of what we read and be ready to question the content of books published by both large publishers and those that are self-published. It’s worth remembering, as mentioned earlier on, that there are reputable and good-hearted people putting information out there and as with the internet, anyone can self-publish.
In the same way we evaluate online information, we can use those same questions to evaluate books.
- Look at the publisher. Is a well-known publisher or self-published?
- Look at the author and their credentials. What are their qualifications and background?
- Lastly when was it published? As mentioned, health information can change with new research and development in treatments and medications. It’s always good to ensure that you are looking at the most up to date information you can.
‘Reading Well‘ collections have been put together by ‘The Reading Agency’ and offer a good place to start for a variety of conditions and topics. There is a list for mental health titles, a list for dementia and also one looking at long term conditions which covers such topics as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes and stroke, as well as symptoms associated with living with a long-term physical condition. There are also lists aimed at children and at young adults.
These collections have been reviewed using NICE guidelines by health experts in their field, as well as by people living with the conditions covered. These are not the only books you can use but they may be a good place to start.
As our libraries are currently closed, I’ve pulled out some eBook and eAudio titles on BorrowBox which you may want to have a browse through until you can access our range of physical stock. As mentioned above the theme of this year’s ‘Health Information Week’ covers ‘Well-being’ so I’ve included some self-care and well-being topics too. These are just a selection of titles – you’ll find more by browsing our collection.
Understanding and Dealing with Heart Disease by Dr Keith Souter (eBook)
A title from the ‘Reading Well for People with Long Term Conditions‘ list, this book gives basic information about what coronary heart disease is, the problems caused by it and what lifestyle changes you can make to improve your health.
Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions by Kate Lorig and David Sobel (eBook)
Another title from ‘Reading Well for People with Long Term Conditions’ list, this covers conditions such as heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, asthma and bronchitis, looking at self-management and how to live in a healthy way with these chronic conditions. It uses tools such as problem solving, goal setting and action planning whilst also looking at the basics of healthy eating, exercise, relaxation and emotional empowerment.
Fighting Fatigue by Sue Pemberton and Catherine Berry (eBook)
CFS or ME can be an emotive topic, as can fatigue but this book avoids the controversial background or the symptoms involved. Written for those with a diagnosis of CFS/ME, it gives practical straightforward advice about managing different aspects of everyday life, ‘…with self-help strategies that are compatible with the current evidence base.’
I put this on the list of titles featured in my’Mental Health Awareness Week’ blog and it’s worth mentioning again here. Matt Haig writes about his firsthand experiences with depression at age 24 and how he came through from seeing no hope to learning to live again. Matt is well known for his books on mental health and his honesty about his own journey. Reading about other people’s experiences with mental or physical health issues can be a useful way of finding your own path through.
Finding Hope in the Age of Anxiety by Dr Claire Hayes (eAudio)
Another one from my ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ blog, Dr Claire Hayes presents anxiety as a normal part of life, something which may give those of us worried about anxiety, some relief. ‘Using the principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dr Hayes helps us to recognise, understand and take control of the unhelpful thoughts, beliefs and actions that cause anxiety.’
Well-being and Self-Care
The importance that sleep plays in our everyday health is something that I’m not sure can be overstated. Given the stress we have been and are still under, taking time out to tackle and improve our sleeping habits is a good place to start in improving our health. There are several books in our catalogue which look at sleep.
The Book of Sleep: 75 Strategies to Relieve Insomnia by Dr. Nicole Moshfegh (eAudio)
This eAudio book looks at insomnia and suggests some quick and easy standalone strategies to help overcome it.
The Art of Sleeping by Rob Hobson (eAudio)
Rob Hobson is a Registered Nutritionist based in London who worked for five years in Public Health. Using scientific research, the book works through the three key pillars of good sleep; behaviour, environment and diet (which forms the perfect acronym ‘BED’).
Meditation, Mindfulness and Calm
My brother spoke to me about meditation only recently in a conversation about our (very stressed) Mum. Meditation, I believe, has been accused of being a bit of a ‘new age thing’ but it has roots in science and has both physical and psychological benefits. In our busy and stressful lives, meditation can help reduce stress, improve focus and awareness and help us relax.
Hurry Up and Meditate by David Michie (eAudio)
The author is a both a long-term meditator and a busy corporate consultant and takes us through his own account of combining meditation with everyday life. I started this title myself and found it very easy to follow. I’m looking forward to finishing it.
Probably best known to British viewers as a comic actress, Ruby Wax holds a Masters degree in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy from Oxford University. She is a mental health campaigner, a patron for the British Neuroscience Association and received an OBE in 2015 for her services to mental health. In this book, she guides us through ‘Mindfulness’ as a solution to the stressful world we are in with practical daily exercises. This title is on the ‘Reading Well for Mental Health‘ list.
Written by Claudia Hammond who presents several podcasts and radio shows as well as being a ‘Visiting Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology’ at the University of Sussex, this titles explains why we should all be taking rest much more seriously. This doesn’t look at sleep but at how we unwind, calm our minds and recharge our bodies by simply resting.
If you’re new to BorrowBox, we have a ‘BorrowBox Basics‘ video to get you started and a ‘Tips & Tricks‘ video to help you make the most of our collection. When you borrow a title, your loan period is three weeks, although if you find you have finished with a title sooner, you can hit the ‘Return’ button in your ‘My Loans’ list to allow someone else to discover the title you have just finished with.
If you need any assistance with accessing our digital library, you can also email us – firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ll finish off with some recommended websites for general and more specific health information, courtesy of the Health Information Week website.
General health information:
- The NHS website
- Charity Choice
- NHS England Publications
- Patient Info
- Reading Well
- Every Mind Matters
- Public Health England
For practical guides to looking up health information on the web, the ‘Health Information Week’ website suggest the following resources:
- A Practical Guide for Searching the NHS Website (formerly known as NHS Choices)
- Finding good quality health information on the internet
- Health information online – who can you trust?
For information on the NICE guidelines I mentioned earlier, you can visit ‘The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’ (NICE) website which issues guidelines outlining which services and treatments are recommended nationally.
There’s also lots of information about local resources on the Warwickshire County Council website – you’ll find advice and further places to seek support as well as information from reliable sources.
Please keep healthy and keep safe. Look after yourselves and most importantly be kind to yourselves.