Can you trust everything you read? Evaluating health information on the Web

Millions of consumers get health information from magazines, TV or the Internet. Some of the information is reliable and up to date; some is not. How can you tell the good from the bad?

First, consider the source. If you use the Web, look for an "about us" page. Check to see who runs or sponsors the site: Is it a branch of the government, a university, a health organization, a hospital or a business? Focus on quality. Does the site have an editorial board? Is the information reviewed before it is posted? Be skeptical. Things that sound too good to be true often are.  Is the site current and has it been updated recently?  Scroll to the bottom of the page for update information.  Is the information factual or does it represent opinion?   You want current, unbiased information based on research.  And finally, ask who is the intended audience of the site—is it consumers like us, or health professionals. 

As you look through the following material about evaluating health information specifically, you will realize that you can use the same criteria to evaluate other information you find on the Web.  Think about bias when you are looking for consumer reports about a product;  think about currency of information when you are evaluating the purchase of a computer;  and think about sponsorship and authority of a site if you are trying to find a lawyer.  

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/evaluatinghealthinformation.html
MedlinePlus offers an overview of evaluating health information and also provides links to more articles to help you find reliable, authoritative health information.

http://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/evaluating_health_information/

University of California San Francisco provides this overview of criteria to use when judging the reliability of health information, including red flags to watch for.

http://www.mlanet.org/resources/userguide.html

The Medical Library Association provides this comprehensive article about finding and evaluating good medical information and includes a selection of “Top 10 Most Useful Consumer Health Sites”.

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