Written by Dr. Mary M. Howrey, Ed.D., MALS, Emeritus Member, Medical Library Association
When a family member receives a new medical diagnosis, when you’re unsure about the side- effects of a drug prescribed by your primary care physician or nurse practitioner, or when your child is quickly struck by an illness at home, where do you begin your internet search for reliable health, drug, or wellness information? What health information can you trust on the web?
Below are important suggestions and factors to remember to rate the quality of health and wellness information on the web based on the advice of knowledgeable professionals working at the National Library of Medicine (NLM), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and National Institute of Mental Health, federal government agencies affiliated with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
Consider the source – Use recognized authorities.
Know who is responsible for the content.
- Look for an “About Us” page. Check to see who runs the site. Is the sponsoring organization a branch of the U.S. Federal Government, a non-profit institution, a professional organization, a health system, a for-profit business, or an individual?
- Web sites should have a way to contact the organization or webmaster. If the site provides no contact information, or if you can’t easily find out who runs the site, use caution.
Focus on quality – All Web sites are not created equal.
Is the information reviewed before it is posted by an author, editor, or editorial board?
- This information is often on the “About Us” page, or it may be under the organization’s mission statement, or part of the annual report.
- Look for a description of the process of selecting or approving information posted on the Web site.
Be a “cyberskeptic” – Quackery abounds on the Web.
Does the site make health claims that seem too good to be true? Does the information use deliberately obscure, “scientific” sounding language? Does it promise quick, dramatic, miraculous results? Is this the only site making these claims?
- Beware of claims that one remedy will cure a variety of illnesses, or that it is a “breakthrough,” or that it relies on a “secret ingredient.”
- A health Web site for consumers should use simple language, not technical jargon.
- Get a second opinion by checking more than one site.
Look for the evidence – Medical research not opinion supports informed healthcare decisions.
- Does the site identify the author and his/her qualifications or the sponsoring organization?
- Does the Web site rely on testimonials rather than on medical research, clinical trials, and the “best practices” determined by experienced healthcare professionals?
Check for currency – Look for the latest information.
Is the information current?
- Look for dates on documents posted while recognizing that a guide on “coping with the loss of a loved one” doesn’t need to be current, while an article on the “latest treatment for AIDS” does need to be current.
- Check to see when the Web site was last updated and that links to other Web sites Broken links mean that the Web site is not being maintained with updated content.
Beware of bias – What is the purpose of the website? Who is providing the funding?
- Who pays for the Web site?
- Is advertising content clearly labeled and distinguished from factual information?
Protect your privacy – Health information should be confidential.
Rely on the National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus.gov Web site to begin your family’s “healthy web surfing” for high quality and trustworthy information.
- Read about symptoms, causes, treatment, drugs & supplements, and prevention for over 1,000 diseases, illnesses, health conditions and wellness issues on the gov website.
- Health topics for children and teenagers topics are easily located at–
- Health information is available in English and Spanish languages.
- A medical encyclopedia, medical dictionary, videos, interactive calculators, games, health quizzes, and questionnaires are featured for health and wellness learning.
- gov health topics are regularly reviewed, and links are updated daily.
Most importantly, consult with your primary care physician or nurse practitioner–Patient/healthcare provider partnerships contribute to your family’s health and well-being.
The Children’s Services Council of Broward County is an independent taxing authority which was established by a public referendum on September 5, 2000, and reauthorized via referendum on November 4, 2014, which, through Public Act, Chapter 2000-461 of the laws of Florida, authorized the Council to levy up to 0.5 mills of property taxes. The role of the Council is to provide the leadership, advocacy and resources necessary to enhance children’s lives and empower them to become responsible, productive adults through collaborative planning and funding of a continuum of quality care. To learn more about programs and services the Children’s Services Council funds, please call (954) 377-1000.
Above content provided by Children’s Services Council of Broward County.