In December 2023, researchers at University of Galway marked one year of a project designed to tackle healthcare myths and help the public to quickly and easily check the reliability of popular health claims through the online resource iHealthFacts.ie.
Funded by the Health Research Board and the Health Service Executive and supported by University of Galway, iHealthFacts.ie was initially set up to debunk misinformation surrounding COVID-19. The research and engagement project was relaunched in late 2022 with further support from the HSE and HRB to focus on more general health information and to answer some of the myths around health claims scientifically.
But this is not just a health fact-checking initiative. As part of the process of visitors to the site are encouraged to consider the questions and all of the analysis in full, promoting critical thinking and evaluation of sources of information.
Using scientific evidence, such as trusted health sources and peer-reviewed studies, the research team analyses information in order to support or refute a healthcare claim, and rather than providing a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the questions, the researchers present the evidence in a way that prompts people to think critically about health claims and make well-informed choices.
“Some people find themselves overwhelmed with information, particularly information about what they can do to improve or protect their health. Increasingly, health information spreads faster and further thanks to the web, social media, instant messaging, television and radio, but unfortunately much of it is unreliable. This can lead to poorly informed choices, under- or overuse of health interventions, or treatments, and avoidable waste and human suffering. This is what we aim to tackle”.Professor Declan Devane, Professor of Health Research Methodology, University of Galway and Principal Investigator with iHealthFacts.ie
Over the last year, more than 4,500 users have visited iHealthFacts.ie; more than 150 questions have been submitted; and the researchers have assessed, answered or are analysing 60 claims about things that can improve our health.
Some of the questions analysed include:
- Do UV lamps in nail bars cause skin cancer?
- Does lavender improve sleep/does listening to radio, music or podcasts make a difference to sleep?
- Does cycling damage men’s genitals?
“We are delighted with the level of interest from the public in iHealthFacts. Thousands of people have accessed our website and read our reviews. We hope this information helps people make informed health decisions and become more skilled in distinguishing reliable health information from that which is unreliable.”Dr Paula Byrne, lead researcher with iHealthFacts.ie and post-doctoral researcher with Evidence Synthesis Ireland and Cochrane Ireland
The public can submit a question at https://ihealthfacts.ie/