According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 60% of adults have gone online at least once to look up healthcare information.
However, the quality of information that they are finding can be very questionable. Online health information is frequently outdated, misleading or completely inaccurate. Publishers of online health information may be biased because they are selling a product or service. In some cases, the information may be based on a fringe study thatÂ hasn’tÂ been published or peer-reviewed. In any case, it can be difficult to find health information that is trustworthy, accurate and safe online.
Knowing how to find the health information that you need from a credible, reliable online source is important in your role as a patient.Â You’veÂ got to be able to weed out the good from the bad and find exactly what you need. Whether youâ€™re finding out more about your recent diagnosis, looking into treatment options or want to get a better sense of a common health issue, use these guidelines to find reliable and relevant healthcare information online.
- Keep the source in mind. Sticking with well-respected health websites is the best way to ensure that the information youâ€™re reading is accurate. Popular websites and websites from official healthcare institutions are more likely to have the information youâ€™re looking for. If you land on a website with an unfamiliar name, multiple ads and outrageous health claims, itâ€™s best to look elsewhere.
- Know how to spot advertising. AdvertisingÂ isn’tÂ in and of itself a bad thing, but it can be presented in a way that is misleading. Any advertising on the site should be clearly labeled as such. ItÂ shouldn’tÂ be integrated into the text of the articles or referred to in any way by the author. In addition to multiple ads in the sidebars, header and footer of the website, watch out for articles that are skewed toward one prescription medication or one treatment option.
- Get a second opinion from other online sources. As youâ€™re browsing for information, be sure to find a second or third reference to confirm your findings. Even if youâ€™re looking at a reputable website, itâ€™s a good idea to verify the information with a few other reputable sources. If you canâ€™t find the recommendation duplicated in several places, it is probably questionable.
- Understand the difference between fact and opinion. Since anyone can publish anything online, there are many health-oriented websites that offer advice, treatment options and â€œcuresâ€ based on nothing more than anecdotal evidence and opinion. Facts are backed up by peer reviewed studies (that have been reviewed by other medical professionals) and have been published in medical journals. If a treatment or cure is based on personal experience, itâ€™s probably not legitimate.
- Take testimonials with a grain of salt. Even if a treatment, prescription medication or folk remedy has dozens of testimonials, you canâ€™t be sure that they are real. Focus on the facts about the treatment and look for outside sources for the best review of the information.
- Find the most recent statistics and facts. Once a website page is published, itâ€™s there until it is updated. As you read about studies or trials, be sure you are looking at current information. Some sites are based on outdated statistics and facts that have recently been overturned by new research. You can often determine the age of a website by scrolling down to the bottom of the page and looking at the copyright date.
- Review your findings with your doctor. If you find legitimate information from a reputable source that differs from whatÂ you’veÂ been told by your doctor, make an appointment. Bring in the information thatÂ you’veÂ found and review it together.
By following these guidelines, youâ€™ll be sure to come in armed with accurate and reliable information that you and your doctor can use to make the best treatment decisions.
Infographic by Florida Health Care Plans