Consumers need to know where and how to find and freely access reliable TM/CAM information (41). Reliable information should also be available and accessible in various ways (e.g. for those unable to access the written form), depending on the needs and capacity of each Member State.
Conventional health care providers, TM/CAM practitioners, and other consumers using the TM/CAM therapy in question may be important sources of information. Valuable information about TM/CAM can also be obtained from national health authorities, research institutes, professional organizations, consumer organizations, pharmacies, libraries, websites, bookstores, health food stores, drug information centres, universities/pharmacy schools that offer training courses and certification programmes for TM/CAM providers, or societies representing specific diseases/conditions. One obvious resource for reliable TM/CAM information is a national or local centre for TM/CAM that critically evaluates information before making it available to consumers. In addition, consumers can be advised to consult different kinds of reliable publications and types of product information to find out more about TM/CAM.
The following key concepts could be considered when producing consumer guidelines on how to assess the reliability of TM/CAM information2:
• Purpose. Any reliable information source should have clear and transparent goals. It should be clear for whom and for what purpose the information is intended. For example, is it intended to educate the consumer or sell a product?
• Relevance/accuracy. Good information meets the needs of the consumer and is relevant to his/her lifestyle and situation. It should not give unrealistic recommendations and should be written in a language that is easy to understand and does not contain obvious errors such as misspellings and grammatical mistakes.
• Sources. Credible information states clearly who is responsible for the information, who is financially supporting the information and where the information comes from (i.e. the original source). It should be clear whether the information is opinion-based or factual.
• Updated information. Information needs to be updated and reviewed on a regular basis. The publication date on written information should always be easy to find.
• Objectivity. A good source of information provides unbiased and balanced information. Such information should be honest about areas of uncertainty and enable consumers to make therapy choices that are in his/her best interest. In case of commercial information, relationships to product manufacturers, for example, should be clearly stated.
2 List adapted from various sources including the Discern Instrument, http://www.discern.org.uk (accessed 25 January 2004); and http://nccam.nih.gov/health/decisions/index.htm (accessed 25 January 2004).