Tips: Searching for Credible Health Information in the Internet

If you have access to the Web, you can find information on everything from the latest medical research to facts on particular conditions. So, should you believe everything you read? NO! Read on for tips on how to search for credible health information on the Internet.

Don't Believe Everything You Read

As you make purchases for your home library or search the Internet, keep in mind that not all information is written by qualified medical experts. Your doctor or a health organization may be able to recommend some good books or helpful Internet sites. When looking for health information on the Internet, don't believe everything you see. Articles published in peer-reviewed medical journals are checked for accuracy, but anyone can put information on the Internet, so there's no guarantee that the information you find is accurate or up-to-date. In addition, many companies set up Web sites primarily to sell their products. It may be helpful to ask a health professional about the information you find on the Internet, particularly before you buy any products. If you search and shop with care, you can add some medically sound reference materials to your home library and find accurate information on the Internet.

Use Information Wisely

It can be hard to judge the accuracy and credibility of medical information you read in books or magazines, see on television, or find on the Internet. Even people with medical backgrounds sometimes find this task challenging. Following are some important tips to help you decide what information is believable and accurate on the Internet.

The Internet

  • Compare the information you find on the Internet with other resources. Check two or three articles in the medical literature or medical textbooks to see whether the information or advice is similar.


  • Check the author's or organization's credentials. They should be clearly displayed on the Web site. If the credentials are missing, consider this a red flag. Unfortunately, there are many phony doctors and other health professionals making false claims on the Internet.


  • Find out if the Web site is maintained by a reputable health organization or reviewed by board certified doctors. Remember that no one regulates information on the Internet. Anyone can set up a home page and claim anything. 


  • Check for the Web sites Editorial Policy. Web sites that provide health or medical information should have a Medical Editorial Board, and an Editorial Policy (that includes peer review by their doctors).


  • Be wary of Web sites advertising and selling products that claim to improve your health. More important, be very careful about giving out credit-card information on the Internet (check to see if they have a secure database such as VeriSign™). Further, even if nothing is being sold on a Web site, ask yourself if the site host has an interest in promoting a particular product or service.


  • Ask yourself whether the information or advice seems to contradict what you've learned from your doctor. If so, talk to your doctor to clarify the differences in the information.


  • Be cautious when using information found on bulletin boards or during "chat" sessions with others. Testimonials and personal stories are based on one person's experience rather than on objective facts or proven medical research.


  • For information on buying products online, please read the "Buying Medicine and Medical Products Online" article.

To Make Informed Decisions About Your Health Care, You Need to Understand Your Health Problem

Medical information, especially material written for health care providers, can be hard to understand, confusing, and sometimes frightening. As you read through your materials, write down any words or information you don't understand or find confusing. Make a list of your questions and concerns. During your next office visit, ask your doctor, nurse, or other health professional to review the information with you so that you understand clearly how it might be helpful to you.

If the medical information you gathered is for a personal health problem, you may want to share what you found with your spouse, other family members, or a close friend. Family members and friends who understand your health problem are better able to provide needed support and care. Finally, you might want to consider joining a support group in your community. You may find it helpful to be able to talk with others who have the same health problem and share your feelings or concerns.

Ultimately, the information you gather from print and electronic resources can help you make decisions about your health care--how to prevent illness, maintain optimal health, and address your specific health problems. Armed with this knowledge, you can more actively work in partnership with your doctor and other health care professionals to explore treatment options and make health care decisions. Health care experts predict that today's computer and telecommunication systems will result in a new era--the health care system information age--built around health-savvy, health-responsible consumers who are the primary managers of their own health and medical care.

Portions of the above information has been provided by the National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services (http://www.niams.nih.gov)


Last Editorial Review: 7/7/2004




STAY INFORMED

Get the Latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!