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Evaluating Online Health Information
There is so much health information available online that it is important to be able to discern the "good" information from the "bad" and to choose the best information to meet individual patrons' needs.
Answers to the following questions can help you determine the quality of online health information.
1. Who is behind the information on the site?
Reliable health information is produced by reputable sources such as government agencies, nonprofit organizations, or universities and colleges. Look for an "About Us" page, such as this one from the Healthfinder.gov site.
2. Who pays for the site?
Support for the website, whether commercial or non-commercial, should be identified. While commercial sites may offer accurate information, sponsorship will help determine whether there is any bias present in the information on the site.
3. Where does the information on the site come from?
Look for information written by trained health professionals with clearly stated credentials. If the information was not produced by the site, the original source should be clearly stated.
4. What kind of evidence is behind the information on the site?
Look for verifiable medical evidence such as published studies in peer-reviewed journals to support claims of improved health benefits of a product, service or treatment.
5. How is the information selected?
Information about the medical expertise of the people who select, prepare or review the material for the site should be available. Also look for the site's selection criteria. Here is an example from the MedlinePlus site.
6. Is the information current?
Health information is constantly changing. An "updated on," "page modified," or "last review" date can often be found at the bottom of the page like this one from NC Health Info. If this date isn't included, look for a copyright line.
7. Who is the intended audience?
Consider the language and readability of the material on the site. Many health sites have separate areas for consumers and health professionals, and some have information available in other languages.
9. Is there a way to contact the site?
Look for a way to contact the site owner or webmaster for further information, to answer questions, or to provide feedback.
10. Need more information?
Consult this short (approximately 16 minute) tutorial from the National Library of Medicine.