I designed this course for ordinary people who are interested in looking after their health and who want to make the right judgements when faced with a range of advice. You may be supporting a family member who is living with a health problem. You’re someone who is curious about the wide range of options available to people nowadays. You’d like to make informed decisions, based on the most reliable evidence. This course should help you to work out your response to people who give you advice, as well as to cope with information overload.
I’ll get you started by thinking about the information people come across in their day-to-day lives. What does information overload look and feel like? How can you distinguish between trustworthy and less trustworthy sources? You’ll learn how to be a ‘health detective’ and look out for my ‘red flags’ of product advertising. How much should you take customer endorsements at face value? Then, I’ll take you through an exploration of human responses to clinical and therapeutic treatments – the placebo effect and bias. You’ll learn how the best clinical trials are designed to allow for these uniquely human characteristics. Last, I’ll show you some great websites for looking up health-related information and give you the tools to search for what you need.
The course comprises mainly short video lectures, along with a few additional resources such as a checklist. There are short quizzes that gently support you to work out whether you have understood the content. It should take you about two hours to work through everything.
This video welcomes students to the course. I'll give you a summary of what to expect and encourage you to get started. I will also encourage you to think about your own health issues. Is too much information getting in the way?
In this lecture, I’m going to illustrate what information overload means, by discussing what happened to Monica. Along the way, I’ll ask you to decide whether or not you would trust Monica’s various sources of information and advice. When you’re done, you’ll be able to differentiate between different sources of health information.
I’m going to set you some questions and prompts to enable you to clarify your own agenda. You’ll probably need some time after the lecture to reflect and make notes. When you’re done, you’ll have a clear idea of where your health information and advice are coming from. Equally important, you’ll have reflected on your personal reactions to these different sources.
Check your understanding of Section 2
How do you know which health information and advice you should trust? Which is best for you? This is the part of the course that could start saving you worry, time and money. I’m going to talk you through my own explorations of a product I’ll call ‘Skin Wizard’. When you’re done, you should have a much better idea of why it is important not to accept health claims at face value, and why some fairly quick detective work can give a good indication of whether claims on a product are over-exaggerated.
How do you know what works and what doesn’t? Will some products or therapies do more harm than good? If a treatment is expensive, is it value for money? Monica's story has probably triggered some of your own thoughts on what she should do. So I’m going to shed some light on the choices she is faced with. I'll show you some ‘detective work’ I did online. When you’re done, you’ll have a good idea of how the internet can be an indispensable tool for checking out health claims.
If you’re anything like me, before you buy something online you’ll have a good read through the customer feedback and reviews. It’s reassuring if you read plenty of positive reviews, and you might think twice if you come across several bad reports. Things aren’t quite so clear-cut when it comes to selling health products. I’m going to explain why a product that has positive customer reviews isn’t necessarily going to meet your needs, although it might. When you’re done, you will know why you should be cautious about a product, even in the face of overwhelmingly positive customer feedback.
Check your understanding of Section 3
How potent is the power of suggestion? We all like to think we are rational beings. Can something really make you better just by believing it will? I’m going to highlight the significance of the placebo effect and 'spontaneous natural improvement' when determining whether a treatment is effective. When you’re done, you’ll be able to explain what the placebo effect is and when it occurs, and how it differs from spontaneous natural improvement.
Why are practitioners not 100% objective in their assessment of what works? I'm going to use the example of acupuncture to illustrate practitioner bias. When you're done, you'll be able to explain the influence of practitioner bias in clinical or therapeutic encounters.
How can you believe any of the claims people make about their medical treatments? Don’t despair. Medicine is not an exact science, but being informed about the limitations can make you a more confident health consumer. I’ll explain how clinical trials are designed to minimise doubt about the different sources of bias. When you’re done, you’ll be able to compare and contrast the trustworthiness of the medicines and treatments that have been clinically trialled with those that haven’t.
Check your understanding of Section 4
If you have a particular diagnosis, you might want to find out more about it. Perhaps you have a reference book at home. Nowadays, there is a wealth of information on the Internet. I use a whole range of websites, depending on what I want to find out. I’ll show you around one of my favourite places to look for health information. When you’re done, you should know where to find accessible health information on this website. You’ll find links to all the websites I’m showing you on the resource.
I’ll show you around another of my favourite places to look for health information. When you’re done, you should know where to find accessible health information on this website.
Perhaps you are more interested in well-organised information specifically aimed at the general public. I’ll show you around two very accessible sites for anyone wanting user-friendly health information. When you’re done, you should know where to find accessible health information most relevant to you.
Check your understanding of Section 5
I have been directly involved in education and learning at many levels for the past 20 years. Previously, I spent a decade working as a nurse in the UK National Health Service, during which time I supported and guided many learners and new colleagues.
My experience of working with learners spans from nursery and infant school settings to further education, higher education, adult education and professional work-based learning. This experience has taught me that people learn best when they have meaningful questions and personal challenges to address. Individuals and communities of practice construct their knowledge by interacting with the world and actively making sense of things.
In my doctoral studies, I sought to understand the personal, lived experiences of nurses who mentored student nurses. Most recently, I have developed expertise in designing e-learning materials to make explicit the academic and practical skills students are learning and applying.
My publications offer a glimpse of my recent academic endeavours, in which I have explored the phenomenology of Martin Heidegger, researched mentorship issues, and investigated the experiences of distance learners. I now work in a range of domains, especially health, biological science, and social science.