NHM Health Focus: Reliable Health Information
You've just heard about an interesting health matter on the evening news, or from a friend, or from your doctor. You want to use the Internet to learn more but you really havent done much online health and medical searching.
What do you need to know to begin a successful search?
First, since there is an astonishing number of sources of medical and health information on the Web, you need some advice to keep you from being overwhelmed with information.
Second, once you find information that appears to address your interest, you need to know how to assess its quality and reliability.
But before you start looking, you may want to review some of the common problems encountered by people searching online for medical information.
Many consumers' ability to locate and evaluate health information online is hindered by access barriers for older, less well off, disabled, and non-English speaking Americans.
Many people also lack critical thinking skills, having problems distinguishing credible health information from that which is not trustworthy.
Many web sites contain inaccurate, outdated or incomplete information. And,
Many consumers had a lack of knowledge about how search engines retrieve results, and didn't realize that paid placements listings can be featured prominently on search engine result pages without regard to quality.
Once you have a sense of the limitations of a Web search, you may want to use tips that help you navigate the Web more efficiently. The University of California, Berkeley Library tutorial details a "Five Step Search Strategy, part of their tutorial, "Finding Information on the Internet."
You may also want to ask yourself what you already know about the subject and start your search from that point forward. As you find additional information, and learn new terms related to your topic, you can use this information to enhance future searches.
There are numerous ways to assess the quality and reliability of the
information found at an online resource. Criteria by which Web
sites are evaluated vary, but generally include:
Another strategy for rating a site uses a series of simple yes-or-no questions. Each "yes" answer is considered a warning to users that the Web site may contain information that should be further validated. Here are four questions suggested by one organization:
Does the fact that a site is popular mean that the quality of posted information is reliable? Popularity is not a guarantee of high quality or medical reliability. In one of the most extensive studies of its kind, Consumer Reports and the Health Improvement Institute reviewed and evaluated the twenty most visited health information sites on the Web. An evaluation of each is posted at Health Website Ratings.
Web sites that have been named by observers as having high standards for objectivity, accuracy and quality of health resources, but not included in the twenty most visited, include:
For more about how to use the Internet to find and evaluate health information, the following free tutorials may be helpful.
Once you have located what you were looking for, determined that the site posted reliable and accurate information, and confirmed the information using unrelated sources, you may want to review the information found in "Tips for Understanding Popular Medical Information" (UConnHC).
Finally, share what you have learned with your health professional so together you can plan a course of action. Never act on information found on the Web without first conferring with your doctor.