Know whom you're trusting. Pay attention to sources + facts.
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Start close to home, then follow the trail of information.
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Version 1.0 | Update 5Sep11
by Paul Quin
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Knowledge is power.

If you know what a football field looks like, you can judge the accuracy of a statement about the length of an Olympic pool. You know if they say it's 20 meters, someone's pulling the wool.

Get to know the basic parameters of your health issues – as for any issue in your life – so you know when the experts make sense.

Simple questions help you build a stairway to knowledge.

Steps to learning

Adapt + complete this outline to make a personal plan.
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1. What do you want to know?

Knowing what sort of data, information or understanding you want to end up with helps you figure out where to look for it. If you can formulate your objective into a simple question or group of questions, you're more likely to be able to find answers.
Simple, anatomic or physiologic facts? University anatomy + physiology websites are set up for students, which is what you are.
Better understanding of the course of events? Public health sites offer succinct clinical summaries. Patient groups + advocates take a front-line view.
Common or best-practices solutions? Try a treatment-focused hospital or grass-roots site.
Cutting-edge options? NIH research sites or professional journals have the best info. Or a grass-roots service like Project Inform.
Lifestyle alternatives? Start with advocacy groups. Or alternative medical traditions, like ayurvedic healing, shamanic practices or Chinese medicine.

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2. What do you know already?

Know where you're starting. What you already know helps you assess the relevance of new facts. As you build a base of facts, you begin to understand the value of opinions + the validity of knowledge constructs.
What facts do you have? Assemble raw, objective data. For health issues, look at baseline tests. For financial issues, check credit card statements.
What does observation tell you? Record real-time experience – no one else lives inside your skin. This is where it's suggested you keep a journal. List what you notice – sleepy this morning, hungry at 11, dizzy mid-afternoon.
What do you know about the folks who are teaching you? Know who is in charge of sites you explore. Trained professionals? A community site? A profit business? Is there a particular religious, cultural or philosophical edge to the operation? This helps you figure out what to trust and to throw in corrective attitude when necessary.

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3. What do you want to be able to do with this information in two weeks?

Set a near horizon, then check in and set the next goal. Objectives are likely to change, so don't be surprised. Keep it simple; this is no time to re-make the universe.
Do you have a decision to make? About a medical procedure, medications, living situation, taking a trip? Focus on options + decision points. Get perspective. Look for the opposite viewpoint, don't stick with surgeon's sites or hospital info when considering an operation – check out physical therapy, Qi Gong or herbal treatment. Watch for trade-offs.
Do you need to be able to speak with the angels? When we speak the same language as our healthcare team, we can understand and be understood. Keep a notebook handy to write down things to look up, or to keep a personal dictionary of terms. Sometimes a simple dictionary or Wikipedia entry is a sound place to begin.

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4. What's the structure of the information?

Look at the tag cloud from a professional website. Figure out what terms mean and how types of information relate. This helps you keep a balanced approach and sense where you have info gaps that need to be filled.
What's the vocabulary? Learn the language of blood tests, operations of the liver, stages of cell mitosis. For this, look to student or hospital sites. Knowing the basic
How do you know if something is awry? What are the symptoms of dysfunction? How does a digestive problem that indicates gall bladder issues distinguish itself from transient stomach upset? It's often whether something lasts, comes on suddenly with no reason or gets suddenly more acute that matters. For this, patient experiences help a lot.
Where are the causative links? Distinguish roots + consequences. Look for pivot points, where outcomes shift. For this, clinical or patient-oriented sites might be most useful. When something enchants you, look further, into research papers and experimental data.
How can you tell what makes the difference? Put on your objectivity filter – look very closely at the data. This is where fantasy can come into play. So often we see what we want to see. Some patient advocacy sites help here.

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5. What info is available?

There is stuff you can learn from other people. There are personal judgments that no amount of data can make for you. There is useful experience from folks who have been at this – whatever it is – much longer than you. There are insights only you can have. It's important to keep the elements of learning + knowing in balance.
Where have you looked? Keep a record of your searches. I sometimes take a screen-shot of search results so I can later compare results from a couple of related searches and see what info trails I have explored and what others might still be waiting.
Are you getting anywhere? Stop occasionally to assess what you've learned. Check in with your objective to see whether you're gaining on it. Sometimes we get seduced by interesting writers into a direction that does not help us understand what we need to know.
Mired down? Change search terms. Check out an advocacy site – even if you find the attitude extreme, that extremity could illuminate the forest of information and show you where to go next.
What else does whoojie have on this topic? When you find useful info, look around on that site or at other articles by that author or from that team. You might stumble on useful stuff that wouldn't show up on a keyword search.

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6. Are you done?

Important to know when to shut your computer off and go for a picnic in the park.
Have you met your objectives? Do you feel confident in discussing options, making a decision or moving forward toward a healthier life?

Learning brings power.