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Evaluating health information on the internet

When consulting health information online, you need to determine if the source is reliable. Here are some questions to ask yourself.

Researching health information

Many people use the Internet to get information and make changes in their lifestyle. Unfortunately, information on the Internet is not always reliable. If you make changes in what you do based on unreliable information, you may waste your time and money because you won’t get the results you are aiming for; you may even damage your health.

Before making any changes, you need to determine that the website you consult is providing reliable information. Ask yourself the following questions: 

Who is responsible for the site?

You should be able to easily identify who is responsible for the site. Usually, this information is located in the “About Us” section, often at the top or bottom of the main page.

The reason you should know this information is because those who run the site will likely determine its content. For example, a site about depression that is run by a pharmaceutical company might present information in such a way as to encourage the use of their medications. It may leave out information about effective approaches for depression, such as therapy or regular physical activity. This can lead the reader to believe that medications are the only treatment for depression.

Be cautious of the information on websites where you cannot identify who is running the site and there is no way to contact them.

What is the purpose of this site?

There are many different reasons to develop a website. If you are looking for reliable health information to guide changes in your behaviours, then use websites whose purpose is to help you identify and manage health problems or to improve your health. This is usually the purpose of:

If the purpose of the website is to sell a product or a service, be skeptical about the information presented, as it will likely be chosen to encourage you to buy the product or service. Verify the information you receive from these sites with sources you believe are reliable.

Some websites are established by individuals or a group of people as a way to share their opinions or experiences. They may mean well, but the information they present will likely only support their opinions. These websites often rely on anecdotes or testimonials as the main source of information: This is not evidence.

It can be difficult to determine the purpose of a website that provides opinions; they may present content that leads the reader to believe their opinions are actually facts. The “About Us” section might be unclear or misleading. For example, the website thinktwice.com states that it “encourages an uncensored exchange of vaccine information, and supports every family’s right to accept or reject vaccines.” However, as you navigate through the site you will realize that the content strongly supports rejecting vaccines. You will need to consult other sources of vaccine information to get a balanced perspective. 

Where is the information from?

The information on a site may be original (i.e. written by the people who run the site) or it may be collected from other sources. With original content you should be able to determine who wrote it. For content that is from other sources, the sources should be indicated and you should be able to verify the information from the original site.

The people who write original content should be qualified and credible sources, as these are generally more trustworthy. Their credentials should be indicated on the site. For example, TheBody.com, a website that provides information about HIV/AIDS and its treatments, has a biography about every health professional who contributes to the content.

For websites where the content is obtained from other sources, the credentials and qualifications of those who review and present the information should be indicated. 

What is the quality of this information?

Reliable information is supported by evidence, which comes from good-quality research. To help you assess the quality of the evidence, the site should provide some information as to when and how the research was conducted. The source of the research should be included so that you can find it and review it for yourself.

Even if you are not an expert in research methods there are some questions that can help you determine if the research was well conducted. Consult Chapter 3, “How to Interpret Medical Research”, in Women Wading Through the Web.

Is the site up-to-date?

What we know about health expands every day. Websites with reliable information must review and update their content regularly. You can often find a statement at the bottom of a page as to when the content of a site was reviewed and updated.

Is your privacy respected?

Some websites ask you to register to use them. Before registering, find out how the information you provide will be used. The site should provide a “Terms of Use,” “Privacy Policy” or similar link where you can see how your information will be used. You might want to consider setting up a separate email account for registering for such sites. 

For more information

Reliable health information websites

The following websites provide reliable, evidence-based information.





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