- Information published by medical societies, health organizations, and the government are reliable sources of information.
- Not all health information on the web is reliable.
- Check out websites before recommending them to others.
The internet is a major source of information about health, but just because the information is published online doesn’t mean that it’s reliable. Sometimes a website that looks trustworthy is based on opinions rather than facts, and sometimes the information is blatantly incorrect. With so much information out there, how do you decide what to believe? Before recommending a website to your patient, think critically about the quality and accuracy of the information contained on the site.
Question the source of the information
Here are some questions to help you evaluate the health information:
Who wrote it?
- Is the author or organization name listed?
- Is there “About Us” information on the website?
- Is the author or organization credible?
- Is there a way to contact the author?
- Does the author have experience or credentials in the topic?
Is the information accurate?
- Does the site credit sources such as textbooks, journal articles, and/or other respectable websites?
- Do the sources actually support what the author is saying? Is the information clearly organized, and is it free from spelling and grammatical errors?
Is the author biased?
- Is the author trying to promote a product, idea, or agenda?
- Is there advertising or other commercial sponsorship presented along with the information?
- Does the site seem to promote a personal opinion, or uses statements such as “from my own experience,” to reflect the opinion of an individual rather than scientific fact?
- What type of language does the website use? Does it explain information in a straightforward way, or does it use sensationalized, exaggerated wording?
- Is a variety of information presented, or just one point of view?
Is the information current?
- Is the information up-to-date? Is there a ‘last updated’ date?
- Does the information seem out-of-date based on other information you have read about or know?
Clinicians, health sciences librarians, and health literacy experts have performed a significant amount of research in the area of evaluating health information online, and many guides, websites, and scholarly journal articles exist to help both healthcare professionals and patients understand the importance of reviewing information found online. Consider reviewing these resources below on an annual basis as a refresher to help you find the best consumer health information available for your patients, and to educate families about the importance of evaluating online health information.
Educational Resources for Patients
- Find Good Health Information from the Medical Library Association
- Finding and Evaluating Online Resources from the National Institutes of Health
- MedlinePlus Guide to Healthy Web Surfing from MedlinePlus.gov
As a health care professional, provide recommendations to reliable information that is clear and easy to understand, and at an appropriate health literacy level. Be sure to reinforce that the information patients and parents read should not replace ongoing communication with their health care provider.
Consumer Health Resources for Patients
Resources for Clinicians
- Health Literacy Resources from Dr. Rima Rudd, health literacy expert. Resources included guidelines for assessing and developing health materials for patients.
- The Science People See on Social Media from the Pew Research Center. This detailed report highlights that science information, including health and medical advice, is rampant on social media.
- Dr Google and the Consumer: A Qualitative Study Exploring the Navigational Needs and Online Health Information-Seeking Behaviors of Consumers With Chronic Health Conditions. Article published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research that highlights the role of the clinician in providing guidance about online health information.