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Finding Reliable Health Information on The Internet

Updated on March 1, 2013
The symbol of medicine, the Caduceus.
The symbol of medicine, the Caduceus. | Source

The Internet is an amazing resource for finding information. When I broke my ankle I spent hours, literally, researching my particular fracture and the typical treatments and course of healing that I could expect. Overall my research made me feel more empowered and gave me ideas about how to care for myself well to improve my healing. Unfortunately some reading left me feeling anxious and unhappy; I was worried about my future health and prospects. How could I know whom to trust?

How do you find safe, reliable health information on the Internet? This is an important question. Most of the patients I see these days are like me; they proactively look for health information on the Internet. As a physician I think this is wonderful. When a patient comes into my office prepared with information and questions I immediately know that this is a person who takes their health seriously and who will be conscientious in caring for himself or herself. I also know this person is curious, intelligent and independent which are traits I admire and respect. However there are some websites that offer misleading information, either through deliberate intent to deceive or because the websites are offering a purely personal perspective that may or may not apply to other people.

Some simple questions can help you evaluate the information on a website. First, is there any indication that the person or company publishing the site has a financial incentive for you to make a particular health decision? If a website is trying to sell you something at the same time that it purports to be educating you go over that information with extra care. Sometimes it may not be obvious that the website is sponsored by a company with a product to sell so use the other criteria to evaluate information as well.

Good doctors listen!
Good doctors listen! | Source

Second, is the website in line with most other websites about your particular health concern? A website that says something that is very different from most other resources should be taken with a grain of salt; look for consensus among different resources. Be very cautious about anything that sounds “too good to be true;” I know it sounds cynical but if only one website is promising a miracle it probably is too good to be true. I have seen individuals and families deeply harmed by this kind of false promise, so I offer a caution.

Third, rely primarily on major, trusted health information sources for your initial basic information. There is an online certification available from the organization Health on the Net Foundation, which is a non-governmental organization that certifies websites as providing reliable and trustworthy health information. You can find their badge on websites that have achieved certification. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look at smaller, non-certified avenues of information. It just means that smaller, more personal sites, like this hub as an example, should be cross checked against other sources of information. These smaller venues can be great for getting a personal touch with the information, getting information about ways to cope with various aspects of a condition, getting support from a community that can really empathize with your struggles, and sometimes for getting good information about conditions or even treatment side effects that aren’t common. However if you are finding contradictory information the major sites are likely to be drawing from broad experience with multiple patients over long periods of time and are more likely to apply to you than one person’s personal experience.

Fourth, bring the information you’ve found to your doctor’s visit to discuss it. Since the time you are given with the doctor may be limited, try to consolidate the information and write down the areas where you have questions. These could be areas of contradiction (you found a recommendation for one thing but your doctor suggested another) or areas you would like clarification about. Many (I hope most) doctors will appreciate your responsible, proactive stance towards your own care and will happily collaborate with you. Remember that as a patient you have both the right and the responsibility to be well informed about your health and to make reasonable, thoughtful decisions about your care.

I have listed below some of the websites I most often turn to for my own health information. These are also the sites I recommend as starter sites for patients who want to read more about their conditions and recommended treatments. Used properly, the Internet has the potential to significantly improve your ability to manage and preserve your own health by empowering you with knowledge.


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    • Rose Anne Karesh profile image

      Rose Anne Karesh 4 years ago from Virginia

      Hi cathylynn99 - thanks for the additional websites! I didn't think of it that way, but I really like the way you expressed it. Look for non-commercial websites for health information.

      Hi ischerzo - yes, absolutely! The internet is a great resource to learn more about a condition for which you are already seeing a doctor. Do not try to diagnose or try to treat yourself! See a qualified medical professional who will have the experience, knowledge and also the objectivity to accurately evaluate and treat you as a patient. Information gained on the internet should be talked over with a doctor before being implemented.

    • ilscherzo profile image

      ilscherzo 4 years ago from Singapore

      I like the websites you have provided. However, I'd like to caution anyone reading this against self-diagnosis. Do not try to be your own doctor. Being a doctor is more than just reading a series of symptoms and matching them to a diagnosis. It is also pattern matching through experience with other patients.

    • cathylynn99 profile image

      cathylynn99 4 years ago from northeastern US

      I also use (the national library of medicine). they have search engines for lay people and for doctors. sites that end in .edu, .org, and .gov tend to be more reliable than sites that end in .com. has a good listing of diseases and symptoms