Q. I use the internet to research health-related issues and am concerned that the information I find might not be from a trustworthy source. Can you provide some reliable resources and tips for evaluating health and medical websites?
A. This is an excellent and timely question. Many health websites provide accurate information. However, many more are used to promote products or treatments. These often feature testimonials, anecdotes, unsupported claims and opinions instead of objective evidence-based medical information.
While caution is important in approaching all health websites, those with internet addresses ending in .gov and .edu are the most likely to be trustworthy. Sites with .org addresses are often reliable, whereas those ending in .com and .net should be considered with caution and only after rigorous evaluation.
These are some things to consider as you check out a site:
- Observe how information is presented and look for “About Us” and FAQ links on the homepage to learn more about the person or group presenting the information and their motivation.
Who runs the website and who pays for it? What might its ownership and sponsorship imply about its content and approach? What is the reason for the site? Is there a clear statement of purpose or mission? If there’s an editorial board, do its members have medical qualifications?
- What is the source of the information? Medical facts and figures require references, such as medical journal article citations, that can be checked to confirm their support of both the facts and the interpretation of facts presented. Who is responsible for or reviews the content? If it’s written by a site employee or contributor, are the author’s name and qualifications provided? If it’s taken from another source, is that source clearly and completely identified? Be wary of information attributed to sources such as “they say”, “some say”, or “many think that”.
- How current is the information? Is there an updated or reviewed date?
Are excessive claims made for a product or treatment? If something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true. Can you confirm the information presented by verifying it on reliable websites?
- If there is advertising, is it labeled? If there are opinions, advice or testimonials, are they clearly set apart from information presented as factual? Is there contact information so users can communicate with the site staff?
The National Library of Medicine maintains MedlinePlus (https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/), an online directory of sites with reliable, evidence-based health information. This resource is easy to use and currently provides over 40,000 links to health information selected according to quality, authority and accuracy guidelines. This is a great place for consumers to begin online health and medical research.
If you would like trained researchers to identify current trustworthy information for your health questions, contact the Grillo Center for its free, confidential research service.
The Grillo Health Information Center offers free, confidential research to assist in health understanding and decisions. To use this service contact us at grillocenter.org or 720-854-7293. No research or assistance should be interpreted as medical advice. We encourage informed consultation with a health practitioner.
Where to find it
Google: medlineplus evaluating health information.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
Google: nccih webresources
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Website of source