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Your guide to evaluating health-related websites

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Your guide to evaluating health-related websites

The Web has increasingly become a source of health information due to easy access and the abundance of information. It is estimated that almost 100 million people nationwide, or 75% of adults, look for health information online—and they do so an average of three times a month (The Harris Poll, 2001). But anyone can put information on the Web. There is no governing body, and information is not screened or standardized in any way to verify its accuracy or usefulness. So, how does one go about determining which websites provide reliable health information?



Consider these criteria to evaluate the reliability of a website for accurate and well-balanced health information:

AUTHOR

  • Is it clear who writes or is responsible for the material on the site?

  • Are the author's credentials provided on the site?

  • Is there a sponsoring institution and, if so, how credible and well known is it? Is a third-party supporting or sponsoring the site?

  • Is contact information given for the author or sponsoring institution?

PURPOSE

  • Is the purpose or mission of the website or sponsoring organization stated?

  • Is the purpose to inform, persuade, sell, present a viewpoint, or create or change an attitude or belief?

  • Is there advertising on the site and is it clearly differentiated from the informational content?

DATE

  • Is it clear when the site was last updated? Health and medical information changes rapidly and ongoing research leads to new insights. Look for the most recent information you can find.

CONTENT

  • Does the site exhibit good grammar, spelling, and literary composition?

  • Does the information consist of documented facts or personal opinion?

  • Are the sources of factual information provided so they can be verified?

  • Is there comprehensive coverage of the subject matter?

  • Are there external links to other sources of information?

  • Does an editorial board or healthcare professional review the content? What criteria do they use for selecting information displayed on the site?

Reasons to be skeptical about health information on a website:

  • No author or date

  • Vague or sweeping generalizations

  • Overstated significance

  • Extreme tone or language

  • Absence of source documentation, especially for numbers or statistics

  • Personal testimonials as only source of information

  • Purported “miracle cure” recommended in lieu of prescribed medicine

Links to more information:

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