The growing influence of the internet on our lives has made it easy to find medical information. Over 80% of the internet users in the US search their medical answers online. In fact, the internet is considered the number one source of health information. While most of the information found online might be useful, there is also widespread of shallow, contradictory, and inaccurate information. Because of the vastness of online resource, it is becoming a problem to determine the trustworthy of medical information. Here are the top tips on how to discern useful information on the internet.
Evaluate the sponsor and purpose of the site
The most import criterion of identifying credible medical information is checking the sponsor. Authority websites from well-respected institutions such as governments, hospitals, educational institutions, medical associations or renowned health professionals should be given priority. You can easily identify the purpose of the site by checking the "About Us" pages. In this case, you should be wary of sales oriented sites, blogs, communities or forums. Most .com sites are commercially oriented.
Check the authenticity
Other than knowing the sponsor of the website or online information, it is equally important to identify the authenticity of the site, especially if you are using the social media. Social media sites such as twitter use a blue badge to indicate that the account is verified. Most organizations indicate the “official status” statement on their social media pages. You can also check on the standards certification seal. If they have the HON (Health on the Net) certification, usually such sites publish reliable information. Another way is to visit the official website of the organization then get their social media details from there. Many hospitals today link to some social media platforms so that users from around the world can get direct access to information regarding treatments, new discoveries, contact information etc.
Basis of publication
Besides checking the credibility of the site, you should also check specific material on the site. Are they based on facts such as referencing to medical journals or scientific research? For instance, if a site is talking about a particular treatment, you can check if it supports its claims with evidenced-based information. Remember opinions, anecdotes, or testimonials are neither objective nor factual. In addition to this, you should also check who reviewed the information before being published. Some credible sites have an editorial team which consists of experts. You can check for this information on the Acknowledgement sections of the publication.
If you doubt any information, you can cross-check with information from other reliable sources for reinforcement.
Is the information current?
In the realm of medical treatment, the recency of information is vital. New and better medical treatment and prevention methods are discovered every day. So, a reliable website should be constantly updating information based on current knowledge. Even if nothing has changed, it should indicate that it has reviewed the information. To check how current the information is, look at the publication date, usually at near the bottom.
Site’s linking policy
Does the site have a policy on how it links to external sites on its publications? Checking the linking policy will help you evaluate the reason for linking to other sites. In most cases, reliable sites will link to other sites who meet set standards while others may take a conservative approach by discouraging linking to other sites. Some sites may link to other sites that pay for the link or expecting to get a commission from a sale. Generally, you should evaluate the linked sites rather than assuming that they are reliable.
How does a site handle personal information and interact with users
For purpose of improving user experience, many sites track visitors’ activities on their sites. Many websites also ask users to either become members or subscribe to receive information. There is nothing wrong with asking users to become active users or collecting personal information. However, you should be wary of sites that don’t explain how they use your personal information. Some may sell your demographic information as aggregate data to companies. Also, the sites should be clear on how they interact with users on their online platforms. Do they have a moderator who chose which comments to accept or reject? You can spend time checking what comments have been posted to get glue.
Basically, determining the credibility of online medical information boils down to asking the who, why, where, when, what and whys. However, don’t rely entirely on internet based medical information when making critical decision touching on your health. If possible, discuss with your health specialist before taking any medication based on information found online.