Evaluating Health Information Online

There’s an old Mark Twain quote, which cautions, “Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.” While much health information is now available online, the importance of this message rings true today. There is a lot of information available on the web. You will find results on any topic you can think of, but that does not mean it is good information. There is all of this digital information available at our fingertips today, but it is kind of like a double-edged sword, especially when it comes to health information. Everything must be questioned! Pay very close attention to details when you find health-related information online, and ask the following questions:

Purpose

  • Why was this information created? Is its purpose clearly stated? Is it presented objectively and without bias?
  • Is the information factual, unbiased, and opinion-free, or are the authors trying to persuade you or sell you a product? If information is presented as factual, can it be verified from a primary source, such as from the professional literature?
  • If advertisements are presented with the content, are they easy to distinguish from the informational content? Can you tell if you are reading an advertisement?

Authority/Sponsorship

  • Where did this information come from? Is contact information, such as an email address, available and easy to find?
  • What do you know about the author(s) or sponsoring organization?
    o If the author is a person, what are his or her credentials? Can you verify that this person is an “expert” on this content?
    o If the author is an organization, what is their mission or purpose? Are they well respected? Does the site list advisory board members or consultants?
  • What is the internet domain? (.gov, .org, .edu, .com?)
    o Commercial sites (.com) generally represent companies trying to make a profit.

 Currency

  • When was the information published or last updated?
  • Has more research on this topic been published since the information source you are viewing? Is this the most current information available?
  • Did you consult multiple sources to determine that the information you found is the most current? Health information changes rapidly as new information about diseases and treatments is discovered through research and patient care.

Accuracy

  • Is the information supported by evidence? Are references cited so you can verify that the information comes from a credible source?
  • Is the information peer-reviewed?
  • Is information presented in a professional manner, free of spelling and grammatical errors?

Audience

  • Is the information intended for consumers or for health professionals, and does it meet your needs?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level for you to comprehend? Is it too advanced for you to understand? Do you feel like you know more about the topic than the author(s)?
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