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Evaluating Online Information

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1.  Who sponsors the Web site?
Web sites are expensive to create and manage. Is the funding source readily apparent? Sometimes the Web site address itself may help:

• .gov identifies a government agency
• .edu identifies an educational institution
• .org identifies nonprofit organizations (e.g., scientific, advocacy groups, foundations)
• .com identifies commercial Web sites (e.g., businesses, pharmaceutical companies, sometimes hospitals)

2.  Is it obvious how to reach the sponsor? 

Trustworthy Web sites will have contact information, often including a toll-free telephone number. The site's home page should list an e-mail address, phone number, or a mailing address where the sponsor and the authors of the information can be reached.

3.  Who wrote the information?

Authors and contributors should be identified including their affiliation and any financial interest in the content. Personal stories may be helpful, but medical advice offered in a case history should be considered with a healthy dose of skepticism. There is a big difference between a Web site developed by a person with a financial interest in a topic versus a Web site developed using strong scientific evidence. Reliable health information comes from scientific research that has been conducted in government, university, or private laboratories.

4.  Who reviews the information?

Click on the "About Us" page to see if there is an editorial board that reviews the information before putting it online. Are the editorial board members experts in the subject you are researching? For example, an advisory board made up of attorneys and accountants is not medically authoritative. Reliable Web sites will tell you where the health information came from and how it has been reviewed.

5.  When was the information written?

New research findings can make a difference in making medically smart choices. So, it's important to find out when the information you are reading was written. Look carefully on the home page to find out when the Web site was last updated. The date is often found at the bottom of the home page. Remember: older information isn't useless. Many Web sites provide older articles so readers can get a historical view of the information.

6.  Does the site display the HONcode?

The Health on the Net Foundation Code of Conduct (HONcode) for medical and health Web sites addresses one of the Internet's main healthcare issues: the reliability and credibility of information. 

7.  Is your privacy protected?

You want to be as certain as possible that your information is not shared with other lists or companies. Take time to identify and read the Web site's policy—if the Web site includes something like, "We share information with companies that can provide you with products," that's a sign your information isn't private. Never give out your Social Security number. If you are asked for personal information, be sure to find out how the information is being used by contacting the Web site sponsor by phone, mail, or the "Contact Us" feature on the Web site. Be careful when purchasing items on the Internet. Web sites without security may not protect your credit card or bank account information. Look for information that indicates that a Web site has a "secure server" before purchasing anything online.

8.  Are you asked for personal information?

Be sure to find out how the information is being used.  It should be clearly stated on the Web site, and if not, you can contact the Web site sponsor by phone, mail, or the “contact us” feature on the Web site. Be careful when purchasing items on the Internet. Web sites without security may not protect your credit card or bank account information. Look for information that indicates that a Web site has a “secure server” before purchasing anything online.

9.  Are claims too good to be true?

Be careful of claims that any one remedy will cure a lot of different illnesses. Be skeptical of sensational writing or dramatic cures. Make sure you can find other Web sites with the same information. Don't be fooled by a long list of links—any Web site can link to another, so no endorsement can be implied from a shared link. Information that sounds unbelievable probably is unbelievable. 

10. Do you want another opinion?

If you find disease or treatment information online and you’d like to know if that information or treatment option is an option for you, print out the information and take it with you to your next doctor’s appointment. Talk with your doctor before purchasing any quick cure remedies. You could actually be hindering your treatment by taking medications or herbal therapies not prescribed by your doctor.


How to Evaluate Medical Information:

Start with this MEDLINEplus tutorial.
This 16 minute tutorial teaches you how to evaluate the health information that you find on the Web. 

Evaluating Health Information
Series of documents and links which provide news, information from NIH, information on research and specific conditions and links to organizations and directories.

MEDLINEplus Guide to Healthy Web Surfing
Healthy Web Surfing addresses issues such as the source and currency of the information and can help make better use of online resources.

National Library of Medicine

Medline Plus
A service of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Medlineplus offers high-quality information on more than 600 diseases and conditions.

PubMed is NIH's searchable database of published scientific and medical literature. PubMed contains citations from 4,600 journals from the United States and 70 other countries. More than 12 million citations are available in MEDLINE, one component of PubMed.

PubMed Tutorial
Learn how to use this resource. PubMed searches provide citations on journal articles. Citations may include links to article summaries, or links to full articles. For copies of full articles, you can contact a medical/university library, contact your local library for interlibrary loan, or order them online.

National Network of Libraries of Medicine
Designed to help you find health information from libraries in your area.

Other Government Resources

The home site of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion provides a portal to the Web sites of a number of multi-agency health initiatives and activities of the Department of Health and Human Services and other Federal departments and agencies.

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
Lead Federal agency for research on health care quality, costs, outcomes, and patient safety.  Research assists consumers in getting objective information on how to choose health plans, doctors, or hospitals based on their performance.

Food and Drug Administration
Federal agency responsible for regulating and supervising the safety of foods, dietary supplements, drugs, vaccines, biological medical products, blood products, medical devices, radiation-emitting devices, veterinary products, and cosmetics. You can access drug information, including prescribing information and the regulatory history of drugs.

NIH and the FDA developed ClinicalTrials.gov to provide patients, family members and members of the public with current information about clinical research studies and clinical trials that are active.

Resources on a wide range of health topics selected from over 1,600 government and non-profit organizations to bring you the best, most reliable health information on the Internet.


10 Questions to Help You Make Sense of Health Headlines


Health on the Net Foundation

Federation of State Medical Boards
Provides doctor profiles and links to state medical boards to verify physician credentials and licensing history.