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Seven Tips for Finding Reliable & Relevant Healthcare Information on the Internet

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 Online health information is frequently outdated, misleading or completely inaccurate.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 that hasn’t 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. You’ve got to be able to weed out the good from the bad and find exactly what you need. Whether you’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.

  1. Keep the source in mind. Sticking with well-respected health websites is the best way to ensure that the information you’re reading is accurate. Popular websites and websites from official healthcare institutions are more likely to have the information you’re looking for. If you land on a website with an unfamiliar name, multiple ads and outrageous health claims, it’s best to look elsewhere.
  2. Know how to spot advertising. Advertising isn’t 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. It shouldn’t 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.
  3. Get a second opinion from other online sources. As you’re browsing for information, be sure to find a second or third reference to confirm your findings. Even if you’re looking at a reputable website, it’s a good idea to verify the information with a few other reputable sources. If you can’t find the recommendation duplicated in several places, it is probably questionable.
  4. 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 “cures” 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, it’s probably not legitimate.
  5. Take testimonials with a grain of salt. Even if a treatment, prescription medication or folk remedy has dozens of testimonials, you can’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.
  6. Find the most recent statistics and facts. Once a website page is published, it’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.
  7. Review your findings with your doctor. If you find legitimate information from a reputable source that differs from what you’ve been told by your doctor, make an appointment. Bring in the information that you’ve found and review it together.

By following these guidelines, you’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.

How to Tell Health Facts from Health Fiction on the Internet

Infographic by Florida Health Care Plans

 

Mikelle Streicher, RN, Ph.D. is Florida Health Care Plans, Inc. (FHCP) Chief Marketing and Sales Officer. In this role, Dr. Streicher's key objective is to build and retain FHCP membership through the use of electronic tools and further development of community relationships. Dr. Streicher joined FHCP in April 2006 as Chief Clinical Information Officer, responsible for all clinical & business applications impacting health care operations. Prior to joining FHCP, Dr. Streicher was with IBM Global Services responsible for the development, marketing, and delivery of consulting services in the healthcare provider space. Dr. Streicher earned an RN diploma from Northwestern University's James Ward Thorne School of Nursing, a bachelor's degree in nursing education from Chicago State University, and master and doctorate degrees in Administration and Planning from the University of Alabama.

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