By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer
I was forwarded an article about the lack of credibility in Wikipedia entries, link here. Is it absolutely shocking that an open source, user-edited and maintained site might not reflect all sides of any story? In my book, no.
In my travels and studies of massage, psychology and personal training, I read a lot of conflicting information. Some “research” is questionable because it’s sponsored by a company or individual with financial ties to the product or service being studied. Some research is questionable if it is not published in an established peer-reviewed journal. (And even peer-reviewed journals may only publish research that reflects the reviewer’s bias.) In my own experience, I think there are some treatments and modalities of wellness care that are ineffective. And some really well-meaning people may practice them, telling clients that if the treatment does not work, it’s because the client did not believe in it. This is hogwash. Belief in a treatment should not be the sole requirement for its effectiveness. If it were, then the placebo effect would be the treatment of choice for everyone! At the same time, I’ve read articles about studies that were published in peer-reviewed journals but were financed by a pharmaceutical company or by a researcher with ties to a pharmaceutical company. Often this research is later criticized by other researchers for its lack of objectivity. The research may or may not be solid, but the researcher’s affiliation makes the results suspect. I’ve also heard stories from clients and friends about medical doctors misdiagnosing them or doing surgery that made their pain and problems worse. So who can you trust for health care information?
For consumers and clients that just want to be healthy and recover from illness and injury, it is difficult to know who to trust. But in health care as well as in all aspects of life, it truly is buyer beware. That said, reading Wikipedia as a source of factual information is unwise. I like Wikipedia as a starting point for general information and further research, but I take what I read with a huge boulder of Sea salt. As wellness care consumers, we all must be careful to check the sources of our information, to visit health care practitioners we trust and to look elsewhere if our health care providers let us down or don’t succeed in treating us or our conditions.
I consider myself a skeptic with an open mind. I’ve seen medical doctors make horrible mistakes, allow pharmaceutical reps to dictate patient care through use of free samples, free tickets and gifts. I’ve also seen some alternative health care practitioners encourage clients to come back week after week, taking the clients money, promising recovery from a disease or condition while having no success in treating the client’s condition. At the same time, I’ve seen both alternative health care providers as well as Western medical doctors help people make miraculous recoveries from illnesses and injuries. The human body is still a mystery to the medical and holistic community. There are things we know and things we guess about and things we are still figuring out. We have not yet conquered aging and death, illness and pain. Some might say that illness, death, pain and aging are part of the human condition. We can do our best to maintain a quality of life, try to remain pain-free, illness free, and when we do fall ill, do our best to find treatment and recover quickly. But as of yet, we all have a finite lifespan. There are no magic bullets. Yet health care research, medical providers, alternative health care providers and wellness practitioners can agree on one thing: We all want our clients and patients to live the best lives they can with our help. And coming together on that point is what matters to me.
As a consumer, what can you do to protect yourself, your pocketbook, and your health from wasting time with ineffective treatments?
1. Be as educated as you can about your condition and the latest research on treatment options.
2. Get referrals from friends and family, keeping in mind that what works for one person may not work for another.It doe snot mean the treatment or practitioner is bogus.
3. Check the background of any health care provider that is going to provide you with care ( especially if you are considering surgery or any expensive or untested treatment).
4. If a health care provider offers you a service or treatment and you are not sure of its effectiveness, look it up. Do your homework. Does the treatment have any research to back it up? Is the research reliable? Don’t just trust Wikipedia for your results! Check out PubMED (for medical research) or PsychINFO (for psychological research) or any reputable research search engine.
5. If you are under someone’s care and you don’t feel you are getting results, it does not mean that person is a quack or is ineffective, it may be that you need a different health care provider or treatment. Sometimes, one doctor may have a different take on an illness. An internal medicine doctor may not know as much about arthritis as a rheumatologist. A Western medical doctor will not know as much about acupuncture as a board certified acupuncturist. A massage therapist may know a lot about your muscle adhesions but will not have the expertise to diagnose an ACL tear in your knee.
There are no guarantees in life. But becoming more knowledgeable about research into a treatment’s effectiveness and a health care provider’s financial affiliations and education, can help you make better decisions about your own health care.
As to the Wikipedia debate, I’ll leave it to the folks fighting to keep their info on the site. I do wonder, though, how important it is to have Wikipedia showcase a particular treatment or school of thought when there are so many more reputable sources for information.
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