Evaluating Online Health Information

health, healthcare, health care

Your Health, In Your Hands

Most people would like to be well-informed health consumers, but finding credible, reliable, freely accessible health information on the Web can be a challenge. The Health Web Guide helps you locate online medical dictionaries and encyclopedias, health-specific search engines, thorough overviews of illnesses, injuries, diseases and conditions, and advice on seeking professional medical help. A Spanish-language version of the Health Web Guide is also available.

Evaluating Online Health Information

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.

Insights for Evaluating 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?
  • Privacy: What is the site’s privacy policy? Does it ask for personal information? How will it use your information? Are you comfortable with the terms of the policy? Does the site ask you to sign up or become a member? Is the Web site secure?
  • 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.

Top Sites for Evaluating Online Health Information

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Top Health Web Sites

The Web is host to a substantial number of reliable, comprehensive health sites. If you know what type of information you're looking for, chances are you'll be able to bypass the search engines altogether and go straight to one of these information portals. Visit the top health Web sites below to supplement your doctor's advice.

Insights for Top Health Web Sites

  • Once you've familiarized yourself with the top health sites on the Web, you may feel comfortable bypassing health search engines and going directly to the information sources. Or use SweetSearch, findingDulcinea's search engine that only searches sites that have been evaluated for reliability.

Top Sites for Health

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Health Insurance

Anyone not covered by an employer's insurance policy appreciates what a luxury health care can be. In this section we'll lay out your health insurance options as clearly as possible and direct you to sites that effectively describe your insurance choices.

Insights for Health Insurance

  • A good place to start is at the Webby Award-winning health insurance site eHealthInsurance.com. The site’s help center has an extensive list of frequently asked questions accompanied by helpful, authoritative answers. It covers the basics of individual and family insurance, small business health insurance, short-term health insurance, student health insurance, life insurance, dental insurance and health savings accounts.
  • If you're unemployed or uninsured, you have a variety of options for obtaining health care coverage. Here are a few concepts and suggestions to get you started.
  • The most basic option for the unemployed is to explore different types of individual or family health insurance. Learn what different plans are available, how they work and what they'll cost. Most introductory questions are answered in the eHealthInsurance.com site mentioned above.
  • Medicaid is a federal program that provides medical care and health services to certain low-income individuals. If you're over the age of 65, pregnant or disabled, you may be eligible for Medicaid.
  • Insurance laws and policies, including COBRA and Medicaid coverage, differ between states. After familiarizing yourself with the basics of insurance, consult a state-specific insurance guide. These can be found at Healthinsuranceinfo.net. For additional questions or clarification on any issues, speak with a state insurance agent. Use this directory to find the official home of your state's department of insurance. Once there, use the resources on the site, or use the contact information provided to get in touch with someone who can be of more help.
  • If you're not covered by COBRA, Medicaid or any other special program, and you're strapped financially, you might want to consider purchasing a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP). An HDHP, sometimes referred to as "catastrophic" health insurance, will protect the insured against costs associated with extreme illness or injury, but won't cover minor doctor visits or expenses, due to the high deductible. Read this article from Insurance.com to learn about the pros and cons of "catastrophic" health insurance.
  • Another cost-effective option to consider is opening a Health Savings Account (HSA). HSAs function similarly to IRAs in that the money directed into them is nontaxable and is earmarked for a specific purpose—in this case, paying for health insurance. Of course there is flexibility, and should you need the cash, it can be withdrawn from the account (under the condition that it then becomes taxable).
  • For information on how to obtain free or discounted prescription drugs, see the “Learning About Medicines” section of this guide.

Top Sites for Health Insurance

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Find a Doctor or Dentist

It's important to have a good relationship with your doctor, and it's doubly important to select the right one. Word of mouth is a great way to find a doctor you can trust, but if you're new to an area or would like to do additional research, there are Web sites that can help you find a doctor or dentist.

Insights for Finding a Doctor or Dentist

  • Check with your insurance provider to learn which doctors in your area accept your plan. Most insurance companies’ Web sites have searchable databases of doctors in their networks.

Top Sites for Finding a Doctor or Dentist

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Talking to Your Doctor About Your Health

Talking to your doctor about your health can be enhanced with a little preparation. This includes attempting to diagnose a condition as well as reviewing your treatment options. By educating yourself on your condition and knowing what important questions to ask, you can position yourself to play a part in the management of your medical issues.

Insights for Talking to Your Doctor About Your Health

  • If you or a loved one has a disease or injury, use the Web to research your treatment options. Mayo Clinic's "Diseases and Conditions" section is a good place to start for many disorders.
  • No one is ever prepared for a bad diagnosis. A woman who has received three has written a book, "AfterSchock," full of advice on how patients, health professionals and family members can best deal with bad medical news.
  • Researching health information on the Internet can help you better understand your doctor's advice and learn how to take better care of yourself. But information is not a substitute for a doctor's advice, based on an in-person examination and evaluation. A few hours of Internet research will never be a substitute for visiting a doctor when you have a serious illness or injury.

Top Sites for Talking to Your Doctor About Your Health

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All medication, whether prescribed by your doctor or received over the counter, is accompanied by directions for use. Although these instructions may be helpful in telling you how to take the drugs, chances are you haven't been fully briefed on what the drugs are or how they work. The following Web sites will help you answer some important questions about your medication.

Insights for Medication

  • Low-income families can be eligible for subsidized medication. The Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA) pairs low-income patients lacking prescription drug coverage with private and public programs to bring them free or cheap medication.

Top Sites for Medication

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