By Jo Perkins
(Wampsville, NY – Sept. 2012) Lots of people search for health information on the internet. Sometimes the information found is just what they need. Other searches end in frustration or worse: finding incorrect, even dangerous, information.
To find reliable health information on the internet, ask yourself the following questions:
Can you read and understand the website? Information should be presented in a clear, easy to read manner.
Is the Website easy to use? It should be organized in a way that makes it easy to find information on a topic, disease or condition.
Is the website written by an organization or someone you can trust? Before you believe any health-related information you find on the internet, find out who is responsible for information on the site. Usually this information can be found on the bottom of the home page. Also, the ending of the web address gives you some information.
A government agency has .gov in the address.
An educational institution has .edu in the address.
A professional organization has .org in the address.
These sites may be the most reliable sources of health information because they’re usually not supported by for-profit companies, such as drug or insurance companies. However, you still need to find out where these sites get their information.
Websites published by individuals may offer support and advice about coping with certain conditions and their treatments. These sites can contain reliable and useful information. However, it’s very important to double-check health information you see on a website published by an individual. While many of these sites contain good information, some may contain myths or rumors.
Has the website been updated recently? Health information is constantly changing, new tests, new treatments even new diseases are discovered all the time. You should know if the health-related information you’re reading is up-to-date. Look to see when the web page was last updated or reviewed. If this date isn’t in the last year, keep searching for more recent information.
Is the purpose of the website clear? Does the site have a purpose other than to educate people? Is it trying to sell you something? If so, keep searching.
Is the information correct and error-free? Information should be correct and from a trustworthy source. It should be based on fact not opinion. And it should be easy to verify that the information came from a reliable source. If a health care professional didn’t write the information, was it reviewed by a doctor or another medical expert?
The safest way to search for health information is to use reliable websites. The following websites will help you get started in your search:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov) is an online source of health information on many topics including diseases and conditions, healthy living, environmental health and more.
Family doctor (familydoctor.org) is operated by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP); all of the information on this site has been written and reviewed by doctors and patient education professionals at the AAFP.
Healthfinder (healthfinder.gov) is where you will find health information and tools you can use to help you and those you care about stay healthy.
Kidshealth (www.kidshealth.org) provides doctor-approved health information about children from before birth through adolescence.
Madison County Department of Health (healthymadisoncounty.org) is your local source for health information.
MayoClinic (mayoclinic.com) provides health education to patients and the general public. The website has interactive tools to help people take care of their health.
MedlinePlus (http://medlineplus.gov) offers up-to-date health information in print and in the form of interactive tutorials with text, sound and graphics. Also offer a site for cell phones and other mobile devices is at http://m.medlineplus.gov.
New York State Department of Health (health.ny.gov) provides the public with general health-related information and convenient access to data resources. Information is organized by topic and alphabetical.
NOAH: New York Online Access to Health (noah-health.org) has definitions, care and treatment, causes and risk factors, warning signs and more about many diseases and conditions.
The internet can be a great resource when you want to learn about a specific disease or health condition. You can also find tips on staying healthy but remember that information you find on the internet does not replace your doctor’s advice. Your doctor is the best person to answer questions about your personal health. If you read something on the internet that doesn’t agree with what your doctor has told you, ask him or her about it.
Jo Perkins is a Public Health Educator with the Madison County Department of Health.