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Finding and Evaluating Health Information on the Net
A Guide for Mini-Med School Participants
 

Searching for health information on the internet can be frustrating. How do we locate relevant health information? By what criteria do we judge the retrieved information to determine its usefulness to you, your friends, or your family?

Here are some quick guidelines:

Finding Health Information Online

If possible, begin with a reliable source. When looking for a specialist, you wouldn’t just open the yellow pages and pick the first name listed, would you? The best bet is to get a referral from a trusted professional. The same principle applies to health information: Start with a website recommended by a health professional or a librarian.


Evaluating Health Information Online

Ask yourself a few basic questions about the web page and information found

1.   Who authored this information and how credible are they?

·    The author/sponsor should be clearly identified on the page with its affiliation and contact address.

·    The top domain level is a good indicator of the nature and purpose of the site:  sites ending in “.gov” or “.edu” are in general more reliable since they are sponsored by governments and educational institutions. The domain name “.org” is more flexible in its usage. 

·    Use commercial websites (usually ending with “.com”) with caution.   Although reliable information may be found within, read the disclaimers and disclosures and be aware of the sites’ intentions.

 

2.   How current is the information?

·    The site should clearly identify the date of the most recent update to the information. For information on research and treatments, be sure to look for very current dates, as clinical research is constantly evolving.

 

3.   Is the information retrieved factual or is it someone’s opinion?

·    Use factual information whenever available.  Look for references to primary literature (journal articles or medical texts).

·    Check one or two more sources on the topic to verify that the information is accurate.  Be skeptical of information which contradicts an authoritative source.

 

4.   Who is the target audience?

·    Websites should clearly identify the consumer section versus the health professional’s section. The information has to be presented in clear, comprehensible language and be easy to navigate through.

·    Remember that many websites are written for an American audience. Look for a Canadian source when possible.


Look at other agencies which also publish guidelines for evaluating health information:

How to find the most trustworthy health information websites
Canadian Health Network (en français aussi)
http://www.canadian-health-network.ca/servlet/ContentServer? cid=1042668266229&pagename=CHN- RCS/Page/ShellStaticContentPageTemplate&c=Page&lang=En

HON code (en français aussi)
Health on the Net Foundation
http://www.hon.ch/HONcode/Conduct.html

Guide to healthy web surfing
MedlinePlus (US)
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/healthywebsurfing.html

Health insight: Taking charge of health information (US)
Harvard School of Public Health
http://www.health-insight.harvard.edu/guide.html


Suggestions for using the Internet to find new cancer treatments
Dr. G. Batist, Director, McGill Centre for Translational Research in Cancer
http://www.mctrc.org/en/rp/suggestions.htm


Disclaimer
!  Your personal health care provider is your best source of information concerning your health.

Updated November 12 2007
© McGill Mini-Med School, 2005-2007
 

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