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Book Review - Making Informed Decisions: Where to Look and How to Use What You Find by Nancy Oster, Lucy Thomas, Darol Joseff M.D.

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By Deborah Cooper • • November 14, 2000

Does the maze of medical information available on the Web confuse you? When you set out to find information about your condition do you quickly feel overwhelmed and have to give up? Fortunately, a new book has just been published that aims to guide you through all the resources available, as well as help you make sense of the information you discover.

Making Informed Medical Decisions: Where to Look and How to Use What You Find by Nancy Oster, Lucy Thomas and Darol Joseff, M.D., is an invaluable tool to have handy before setting out on your personal information odyssey. In fact, this book could save you a lot of time, trouble and frustration, as it leads you through the medical ‘information highway’

The authors used to teach a class in Adult Education about finding healthcare information on the Internet. From their experiences teaching the class, they learned that people really want to improve their critical skills in evaluating medical information. At a time when primary care physicians are under increasing pressures, spending less time with patients and finding it difficult to stay on top of the latest research, patients are having to rely more and more on educating themselves about their condition and the possible treatment options.

The writers perceive the Internet as a way to bolster the doctor-patient relationship. They believe that “the doctor’s job is not to know everything but to come up with the treatment that is most appropriate for each patient. The Internet can be a great ally in this respect. It can help relieve the burden on the beleaguered primary care physician and give the patient more control over his or her medical destiny.”

The book gives many practical ways to find out what you need, and is organized into four sections. The first section deals with research preparation, such as accessing medical records; then the second section covers the kinds of resources that are available; the third section explains the range of treatment options to be aware of, including both standard and experimental, as well as coping skills and where to get support. The final section explains how to interpret statistics, evaluate risks related to treatments, and how to work with your doctor.

The scope of the resources described in the book is not limited to just the Internet. The authors also include print sources, information you may gain through conversations with medical experts, other patients, and support groups. The book aims to direct you to “the many places you can find medical info – bookstores, libraries, Internet, support groups.”

A useful aspect of this book is its attention to detail, for example, the authors take the time to explain the differences between peer-reviewed medical journals and non-reviewed medical journals. An in-depth discussion of complementary and alternative therapies is included, and the writers even go so far as to point out the limitations of scientific ‘proof.’ The authors have also done a good job of enlivening the subject matter with the personal stories and experiences gleaned from their students and colleagues.

Making Informed Medical Decisions is an excellent resource for people from all walks of life. Whether you have just discovered the wealth of information you can access on the Internet, or if you are a professional researcher, you will find the writing to be comprehensive, clear and easy to read.

Note: This book will shortly be available in the store.

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