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Making Sense of Health Evidence: The Informed Consumer

How do you understand whether health evidence is likely to be reliable or not? Find out in this free online course.

9,144 enrolled on this course

The Informed Health Consumer
  • Duration

    4 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

Every day we read or hear about new health research that looks at what might help or harm, limit or extend our lives. Health research is big business and over a million papers are published every year on health-related topics. So how do we find the evidence we need and, more importantly, how do we judge how good that evidence is?

Over four weeks, this free online course will:

  • look at what factors make some evidence less reliable;
  • provide practical help on how to find the best evidence;
  • improve your understanding of health research and its terminology; and
  • give you some simple tools to help judge whether you can believe it.

The issues raised in this course are examined in a series of weekly case studies. These provide a framework to discuss wider issues in health research. Topics include the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine, the use of drugs in pregnancy and the impact of dehydration on how well we function.

As part of the course, we will be developing a resource bank that points you to sources of good evidence throughout the world. We would like you to participate in this process by identifying the best evidence-based health resources in your country and acting as a quality checker.

The team of educators on the course come from a range of disciplines, including health, social sciences and journalism, and teach courses at all levels on how to understand research and use it effectively.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 9 seconds We put the course together, because everyday we’re bombarded with news about how something is good for you, not so good for you. This causes this. Something else causes cancer. Apparently, most things cause cancer. It was really to help people understand why not all evidence is good evidence and why you need to be selective. You’re trying to find the information you want, but what you need to use are reliable and valid data sources. And there are plenty of those out there. If you can find this in your search for information towards those websites, then you’ll do better.

Skip to 1 minute and 2 seconds And part of what we’re trying to do in the course is to show you what kind of resources can help you, what kind of evidence you should be looking for, and how to find it more easily. The other big thing that you need to look for, the really big thing you need to look for is, was the research sponsored? If it was sponsored, who sponsored it? What kind of conflicts of interest do people have? It’s actually got sneakier. And one of the things we show you is that quite often what you see is funded in a way you might not expect by a group you have invested interest in you believing that piece of evidence.

Skip to 1 minute and 53 seconds It’s about giving you the confidence to ask the right questions, because very often if it doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.

What topics will you cover?

  • Why all evidence isn’t good evidence
  • How health research is reported in the media
  • Bias and conflicts of interest in health research
  • Hydration and health - who pays for the research
  • Searching for health information
  • What counts as good evidence
  • Risks and benefits of treatments
  • Taking drugs in pregnancy
  • Perceptions of health research
  • How treatments are evaluated
  • The MMR scare in the media
  • Estimating and communicating risk
  • Different kinds of research
  • Smoking and lung cancer - lifestyle choices and risk

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Collaborate to identify and create a shared set of reliable sources of health evidence
  • Apply critical thinking skills to a range of case study examples
  • Develop an understanding of health research and its terminology
  • Assess issues related to risks and benefits of treatments
  • Explore how research is carried out

Who is the course for?

You might want to sign up for this course if:

  • you, a member of your family or a friend have a medical condition, so you can understand the evidence for various treatment or management options;
  • you are applying to study a health-related subject at university;
  • you have a general interest in the topic and want to improve your knowledge; or
  • you are involved as a lay (non-expert) member of a research committee or advisory panel.

The only requirement is having an interest in the topic. So if you want to understand why not all evidence is good evidence, and learn how to tell the difference, this course is for you.

Who will you learn with?

Hello. After twenty years working in industry (including twelve with a pharmaceutical company) I joined Cardiff University in 2006. I work as a Systematic Reviewer and Lecturer in Research Methods.

Who developed the course?

Cardiff University

Cardiff University is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s leading research-intensive universities and is ranked within the top 150 universities in the world in the QS World University Rankings.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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