Want to know how to tell good information from bad? Here are 10 things you should look for on health information sites that will help you determine whether the information is from a credible source.
1. Perhaps one of the most obvious ways to tell credible information from less reliable content is to check the Website address or URL. A Website address ending in ‘.edu,’ denotes a site developed by an educational facility such as a university. If the site address ends with a ‘.org’ it denotes an organization or association and generally, but not always, applies to a not-for-profit organization. Government Websites end in ‘.gov,’ such as http://www.cancer.gov.
Most sites ending with ‘com’ are businesses. That is not to say that ‘coms’ are not credible. There are millions of credible commercial sites on the Web, but it might be harder to tell who, if anyone, sponsors the information on some ‘.com’ sites. It is important to note that there are exceptions to the .com rule, such as www.mayoclinic.com, the official health information site of the Mayo Clinic, and the Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit medical practice.
2. Credible Websites have a page that provides information about the organization and people involved with the site. Usually this information is found under the heading ‘About Us.’ Some sites do not post biographies, resumes, pictures or even names of people, as they wish to maintain personal privacy. But some information on ‘who’ and ‘why’ should be posted – it may be in the small print, but it will be there.
3. Websites should also provide their contact information—an email address or a phone number, preferably both, somewhere on the site. This is usually found by clicking a link called ‘Contact Us.’
4. If the site carries advertising or is funded or sponsored by third parties, that information should be made visible. If any of the content is sponsored, the site should state by whom.
5. The content should have a date. The date should show when it was last reviewed and whether it was medically reviewed.
6. If information on a Website did not originate on that site, the source of the information should be provided.
7. Many health information Websites, including the ‘.coms’, carry the HON code. This stands for the Health On the Net Foundation, which has a “Code of Conduct to help standardize the reliability of medical and health information on the Internet. HON has been approved by the United Nations and while it does not review Website content, it does provide rules that Website developers must honor in order to display the code on their site. These rules relate to ethical standards and presentation of information.” (Quoted from the HON Website: http://www.hon.ch/).
Another thing to look for is the seal for TRUSTe®, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting fair information practices on the Internet. Only organizations that adhere to the TRUSTe® privacy principles and agree to TRUSTe® oversight are allowed to carry the seal on their Website.
Finally, there is URAC—the largest accrediting body for healthcare organizations in the United States. URAC has a number of accreditation programs, depending on the function of the organization. To find all of the companies accredited by URAC visit: http://www.urac.org [links to http://www.urac.org].
9. All the links on the site should be current and easily accessible.
10. Most important of all: No health information on the Web should take the place of information provided by your physician or healthcare provider. Health information on the Internet is meant to supplement the information your physician gives you — not replace it. Be wary of any Website— health related or otherwise — that asks for your personal information before you can access their information.
These cautions extend to advice received from online chat sessions or from doctors who stand in as experts on Websites. If you are getting your health information online, make sure you get a second qualified opinion, at a minimum.
Happy Searching! Claire
About the Author
Claire Sowerbutt is a widely published and respected health and medical writer with hundreds of articles published on the web and in print. Her career as a medical journalist spans more than a decade, and as a non-medical professional with a wealth of contacts in the medical profession, she brings a unique consumer-oriented insight to her columns. Currently, Claire writes a regular column for the Internet health site www.knowitallhealth.com.