Finding reliable health information online

April 28, 2011

If you’ve tried searching for health information online, you may be overwhelmed by the results. How do you know what to trust?

“One issue with searching online for answers to questions regarding your health is that anyone can put up content on the web,” says Suzanne Shurtz, MLIS, AHIP, adjunct faculty at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health, librarian and assistant professor at the Texas A&M University Medical Sciences Library.

According to Shurtz, there are certain keys to follow:

  • Credibility – Does the website state its sources and are these sources authoritative?
  • Timeliness – Does the website tell when it was last updated? Keep in mind medical research is ongoing, so try to find the most current information.
  • Content – Is the information in terms you can understand? Are there advertisements or obvious biases in the recommendations?

“Government and educational organizations with websites ending in .gov, .org and .edu are typically good sources of quality health information,” Shurtz says. “These resources are usually written by those with expertise in the field, based on current research, updated frequently and often have content written in language understandable to the general public.”

Once you find and evaluate online health information, discuss the content with your health care provider and learn how it may apply to you.

“The web can be a wonderful tool to educate yourself about health conditions and treatment options,” Shurtz says. “However, care should be taken that the information you utilize is the best information available. Medical and public librarians can guide you to find reliable health resources.”

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