Both doctors say that patients who have read up on breast augmentation on the web can be some of their most informed. But they worry that authorship of the sites is not always easy to identify. Some may have been run by private physicians who have more of a commercial, rather than academic, interest in the subject. In fact, most of the 41 sites evaluated by the plastic surgeon team were "physician" sites -- and, at the time they were reviewed, none of these showed any "bad outcome" photographs. Others may have been run by "anti" organizations, which can raise unscientific fears about the procedure.
What it all comes down to, they say, is that the final information provider ought to be the patient's doctor. "I think for any medical problem, you're taking a risk by relying on a particular medium for your decision," Matthews says. "Part of medical care is the act of seeing patients."
"Unfortunately, it is a common misconception with consumers that if you can find it on the Internet, it must be true," says Gilbert Ross, MD, medical director for the American Council on Science and Health, a consumer education consortium concerned with issues related to food, nutrition, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, lifestyle, the environment, and health. "As you know, it takes very little to set up a web site."
Ross's advice for choosing a good source: "When a site is sponsored by a reliable organization, that gives you a good head start. Certainly, sites by the National Cancer Institute, the Mayo Clinic, Harvard Medical School, are better to be relied upon. But if you don't know who is responsible for a web site, you're playing Russian roulette with your health."