Evidence-based medicine

How can InformedHealth.org help?

Fortunately, many health-related decisions can be made without specifically looking for information. But it's not always easy to decide what to do, particularly when making decisions about a severe disease or a demanding treatment. Using a number of basic questions listed below, we will try to explain how InformedHealth.org can help you to make a decision.

Health advice is quite popular. Whether on the internet, TV shows, in books, newspapers or magazines – experts and journalists offer new advice and recommendations every day.

So some of our readers may be a bit confused when browsing the pages of InformedHealth.org. You won't find any advice or recommendations here, and that might seem odd at first.

The following questions might help explain why we have made a conscious decision not to give recommendations – and why we believe this is precisely the reason our information can help you to make the most realistic and best decision for you.

Question 1: What will happen if I just do nothing, and wait and see?

Each of our topics describes the risks and possible consequences of the medical condition. It would be impossible to decide whether or not to have treatment without this basic information.

When presenting risks, we also make sure that we report frequencies, such as how likely it is that the medical condition will lead to a particular consequence. But it's often difficult to find exact figures for these risks, and sometimes only rough estimates are possible. This often leaves uncertainty. But we have decided not to withhold these figures because they can still provide important information.

We also make an effort to not make any assumptions concerning how people feel about the possible risks and consequences of a condition. It is up to you to decide how concerned you are about a particular risk.

Question 2: What are my options?

When we produce our information we summarize the main possible courses of action. Our selection is based on a variety of scientific sources. We mostly describe treatments that have been looked at in scientific studies and interventions that are used in Germany.

We believe that scientific research offers a fundamental basis for making health-related decisions because it is likely to provide the most realistic picture of the benefits and harms of treatments or interventions.

Question 3: What are the advantages and disadvantages of the treatments?

For a fair comparison of medical interventions, you usually need scientific studies. Because different studies can come to different conclusions, it often makes sense to use summaries of the available good-quality studies.

For this reason, we look for what are known as “systematic reviews” when we want to find out the advantages and disadvantages of different treatments. The results of these reviews are the most reliable sources of information on the current state of knowledge.

Unlike other health information providers or newspaper articles, we often conclude that a treatment has not yet been shown to have clear advantages and disadvantages, or has not been studied enough. Many people prefer to follow recommendations, so our approach may be less satisfying. It is, however, usually more realistic than advice that isn’t based on scientific evidence. It's also important to present figures carefully so that the effects of a treatment aren’t overestimated or underestimated.

We only make statements about the benefits and harms of a treatment if it has actually been studied well enough for the results to be reliable. This ensures that our information is as reliable and correct as possible.

Yet it often turns out that only a few – or even none – of the available treatments have been well studied. This is frustrating for us too, but we would still rather describe this uncertainty than create a false sense of certainty.

Question 4: How do I weigh the pros and cons of my options?

Another important reason why we don't usually make recommendations on InformedHealth.org is this: We see the step of weighing the pros and cons of a treatment as one that you need to take yourself. Our wish is to provide you with all the information you need in order to make a decision about a medical issue. In doing so, we try to keep it neutral. Because InformedHealth.org is independent and ad-free, we also have no interest in making specific treatments appear to be better than they are.

Question 5: Do I feel informed enough to make a decision?

On InformedHealth.org you will frequently find statements like: "5 out of 100 people who take the medication will benefit from it." But nobody can predict who will be one of the 5 people who benefit from it or one of the 95 who do not. The same is true when we try to predict whether side effects will occur.

Medicine usually deals with information based on probabilities, which doesn’t make individual decisions any easier: There is never a guarantee that the decision you make is will be the right decision. A certain amount of uncertainty is normal.

When we choose which health-related questions to answer in our information, we try to cover areas we assume are interesting to our readers and helpful for making a decision. This is why, when choosing which topics to cover, we also use qualitative studies in which patients are asked things like what aspects of their condition are important to them.