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The self-help sites that actually work

A new study reveals which online treatments are actually evidence-based.
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With the exorbitant costs of health care, many of us first turn to the internet for answers and advice before dealing with the headache of finding a doctor, calculating copays and deductibles. There’s no end to information online addressing self-improvement and health topics, from how to lose weight to better manage work stress. But how do you know if what you read will actually help you?

A new study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research narrowed down a list of around 40 websites that actually have science-based evidence proving their efficacy.

Researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School looked at sites that offer prescriptive methods, such as online courses and treatment programs, to improve health issues ranging from substance abuse, to depression and mood disorders, to high blood pressure and chronic pain. While many are free, some charge for their programs, like the National University of Australia’s Alcohol E Check Up To Go, which provides a personalized intervention and alcohol treatment module for undergraduate and graduate students (at $975), or Mindfulness Center, a Swedish site that offers fee-based online mindfulness training courses. (For a full list, go here.)

To compile the list, the U of M team first searched for online research papers citing randomized controlled trials, and found 71 papers referencing 1,733 scientific studies. They also found that only 21 percent of the online programs still had working websites after the study was completed, likely due to the discontinuation of grant money.

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“This list is just a start," Mary Rogers, research associate professor at U of M, said in a release. "New trials are completed on an ongoing basis, so we suspect that there will be additional websites with effective interventions added to this list over time. It is important that procedures are in place so that people know where to find health information that is backed up by science."

With the proliferation of #fakenews and #alternativefacts, this sounds like a step in the right direction.

 
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