How do you find reliable health information online?— published: 08-20-2010
Despite widespread access to internet-based healthcare information, there’s almost a complete lack of evidence showing any effects all this information may have on health outcomes. According to a study published in Health Expectations, this indicates that there’s a disparity between the health information we find online and our ability to use it properly.
So, with as much information as there is on the internet, how can we, as consumers, find reputable sources for our health questions? The internet can be a great resource when you want to learn about a specific disease or health condition. You can also find tips on staying healthy. But among the millions of websites that offer health-related information, many present myths and half-truths as if they are facts.
To avoid unreliable health information when you’re surfing the internet, use these tips to find reliable information:
- Keep in mind that anyone can publish anything they want on the internet, regardless of the facts. Ultimately, it’s up to the consumer to determine which information source is credible.
- In order to determine a trusted, verified source for credible and objective information, stick with well-respected health websites. A good starting point is healthfinder.gov, which provides a “Health A to Z” topic listing (http://www.healthfinder.gov/HealthAtoZ/ ) of over 1,600 health topics from the most trusted sources.
- Newspapers always use more than one source for verifying factual information. The same should hold true for health information. When searching a topic, it’s important to find at least a second reference to confirm your findings. Find a third reference, too, if possible. When several sources report similar information on a topic, it’s more likely to be accurate and up-to-date. In general, if you can't find the information duplicated in more than two or three references, then the information is questionable at best.
- Become skilled at separating facts from opinions. This can sometimes be difficult, as the evidence that exists may be minimal. It's important that you know the difference between fact and opinion, especially when you're researching treatment alternatives.
- Testimonials and personal stories tend to focus on a patient’s subjective point of view. If you find a website that quotes patients about the effectiveness of a treatment or therapy, this information is biased and cannot be trusted as a reliable source. However, there is information to be learned from the experiences of patients by using other sources (for example, through blogs and wikis, and support group message board forums). In those situations, refer back to point 1 (above) as your first line of review.
- Make sure the information you find is the most current available. Often, you will find that research and studies conflict with one another, or that newer information trumps older information.
Finally, information that you find on a website does not replace your doctor's advice. Your doctor is the best person to answer questions about your personal health. If you read something on the internet that doesn't concur with what your doctor has told you, make a point to speak with him or her about it.