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Commentary: As We Seek Out More Medical Information, Trusted Sources Remain Essential

07/10/21 The Manual's Editorial Staff

Over the last 18 months, ensuring the health of our families and our communities has taken on a newfound significance and meaning. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has driven us to reexamine how healthcare, public health, and society intersect. Many people have learned more about topics like respiratory illness, viral loads, and vaccine efficacy than we ever expected. At the same time, healthcare professionals have been called on to answer hard questions and help patients navigate unprecedented pandemic challenges, while at the same time navigating new care delivery models like telehealth.

As circumstances and challenges surrounding COVID-19 have evolved, it’s clear that trusted, reliable medical information has become more important than ever. Physicians, public health experts, patients, and families rely on accurate, objective information to make better decisions to drive better health outcomes. This need for quality health resources extends far beyond pandemic-related information, and it’s clear many are actively seeking out more medical information today.

In fact, according to a recent survey from the MSD Manuals, three in five Americans (60%) say they’re reading, accessing, or consuming more medical information today than they were 24 months ago. Many Americans are looking to online sources for those resources. About 58% of Americans say they get more medical information online than from doctors, the study found.

Challenges in Evaluating Medical Information Persist

Yet, with this increased focus on finding and interpreting medical information comes challenges. Finding trusted, reputable information, particularly online, presented difficulties even before the pandemic. Today, nearly 6 in 10 Americans (58%) say they are overwhelmed by the amount of medical information out there.

What’s more, many struggle to stay current on the latest information. Nearly two-thirds (64%) say they get confused because medical information is constantly changing. Finally, accessing and evaluating medical sources and information can pose challenges in how we connect with others. About 68% of Americans say they often hear conflicting medical information from family and friends.

“Our recent survey underscores what many health care professionals and people in the general public intuitively feel – online health information is easy to access, but the volume can be overwhelming and it is hard to know what to trust. Making health care decisions for yourself or your loved ones is so important and a lot of people talk about doing their own research, but how do you sort through it all? Through every chapter, medication or lab test explanation, video, 3D model, editorial, podcast episode, and more, the MSD Manuals remains committed to giving medical professionals and consumers accurate, vetted information that helps them make the best decisions.”

– Dr. Sandy Falk, M.D., MSD Manuals Editor-in-Chief

A Renewed Commitment to Global Medical Knowledge

Last year, the MSD Manuals celebrated a major milestone. Our trusted, current medical information is now available to more than 3 billion people in 241 countries around the globe. The Manuals has been translated into a dozen languages, with tens of thousands of resources available for patients, parents, physicians, and healthcare professionals worldwide.

It’s a significant accomplishment in an ongoing ambitious journey to fulfill our mission to protect, preserve and share the best current medical information to enable more informed decisions, enhance relationships between patients and professionals and improve health care outcomes around the world. We’re just as committed to this mission as ever. And as the last 18 months and our recent research shows, the need for this information remains critical.

In addition to developing and updating a wide range of medical materials and resources for medical professionals and consumers, the Manuals has drawn on existing consensus criteria to create an easy-to-remember pneumonic that guides people looking for online health information.

Patients and parents, as well as physicians and medical practitioners, can use the STANDS method to evaluate online resources:

  • Source: Does the resource cite recognized authorities and provide their credentials?
  • Transparency: Is it open and obvious whether the site’s mission is educational or commercial?
  • Accessibility: Is the site available without registration, and is there a way for users to contact someone with questions or concerns?
  • Neutrality: Is the information available purely as a resource, or does the site benefit financially from what its users do (such as buying products or visiting advertised websites)?
  • Documentation: Is the site updated when needed by recognized medical experts?
  • Security: Can users access content without forfeiting personal information?


Celebrate Global Medical Knowledge on October 15

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how our medical choices can impact not just our own health, but the health of our loved ones and our community. On October 15, the MSD Manuals will celebrate Global Medical Knowledge Day—a chance to recognize and celebrate the power that trusted, reliable medical info has in fostering better health outcomes and healthier communities. It’s a natural continuation of our Global Medical Knowledge 2020 initiative while highlighting the urgent need to help all people around the world find and access medical information that drives better medical decision-making.

We hope you’ll join us on October 15 in acknowledging accurate, timely and reliable medical information as a universal right. Medical knowledge is power. Pass it on.

Test your knowledge
Care Providers - Family and Friends
Some older people require caregivers to provide help and care with activities of daily living. Of the several different types of people who can serve as a caregiver, which of the following is the most common?