Your Health, In Your Hands
The Internet can be a great place to find health information, but because health is a serious topic and the information you find could have potentially great significance, it's important to ensure that you receive accurate information from reliable sources. The following tips can help you evaluate online health information.
- Remain skeptical at all times. The focus of your search should be finding credible information, rather than finding what you want to hear.
- Always verify information by confirming it with multiple sources. If you find a few unrelated, credible Web sites in agreement on a medical issue, your research is probably done. The same cannot be said if you read something just once.
- No single characteristic will tell you if a Web site is reliable. Each site must be examined independently to ensure that the available information is accurate, up to date, objective and authoritative. Your first stop when visiting a health Web site should be the "About Us" section. Look for information on the site’s authority, funding, credibility and privacy. The following are questions to ask yourself every time you visit a health site:
- Authority: Who created the Web site? Why was the information made available? What are the authors’ credentials? Look for degrees, fields of specialty and experience. Do they provide their contact information?
- Funding: Who is funding the site? Is the Web site operated by a pharmaceutical company or business that is endorsing a specific product? Is the site trying to sell you something? Does the site have advertisements? Are they clearly labeled, or do they blend with the general information?
- Credibility: Where does the information come from? What is the site’s editorial policy? Do experts review the information? Is the information thorough and complete? Does the author address every issue that could be valuable to your understanding of the topic? When was the site last updated? When was the information posted on the site? When was it last reviewed? Do the authors make unbelievable or emotional claims? Do they advertise miracle cures? Does the information conflict with accepted medical logic?
- Be sure to read a Web site’s disclaimer to learn about the conditions under which the information presented is being made available. The disclaimer can usually be found at the bottom of a site’s homepage or in the "About Us" section. Be wary of the authenticity of any Web site that does not have a disclaimer of some sort.
- A useful tip for judging the quality of health Web sites is to look for accreditation. This is also generally found in the "About Us" section at the bottom of the homepage. The URAC and the Health On the Net Foundation (HON) are two organizations that examine Web sites for quality. If you see their seals of approval you can be confident that you're receiving valid health information.
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