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Judging the Quality of Health Information on the Internet: Don't be a Cyberchondriac

written by: Profacgillies • edited by: Anurag Ghosh • updated: 10/14/2008

How do you know if Internet health information is reliable? There’s a lot of information out there, but can it be trusted? Alternatively, how do you ensure that you don’t miss the good stuff? Like all good articles about health information, this one is no substitute for consulting a physician!

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    Introduction

    There is a huge amount of health information on the Internet. It is often treated with suspicion, especially by health care professionals. And yet it includes reference material including top journals, and other authoritative sources. Of course, even where the material is of high quality it can cause unnecessary anxiety without the input of a physician or other professional. So this article comes with the standard caveats.

    Do consult a qualified physician, and don’t take reams of printouts with you and tell them their job!

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    Health Web Site Check List

    What follows is a checklist which provides a guide to help you decide whether a site should be trusted. The more questions you can answer correctly the more likely it is that you can have confidence in the site and its information.

    Does the address give confidence (as opposed to suggest a conflict of interest)?

    1. ‘gov’ is a government website

    2. ‘nhs’ is an NHS website

    3. ‘edu’ or ‘ac’ is usually an academic website

    4. ‘org’is usually a non-profit organization

    5. ‘com’ or ‘co’ is usually a private company

    Whose site is it?

    1. Does the site clearly state who is behind the site?

    2. Are they credible?

    3. Do they have qualifications in the subject matter?

    4. Are you sure they don’t have a conflicting agenda, e.g. commercial, political

    5. Are they from your country?

    Can you talk to the site owner?

    1. Does the site provide a contact Email for the webmaster?

    2. Does it have a form to feed back comments on the design and ease of use?

    3. Does it have a form to feedback on the content of the site?

    4. Does the contact mechanism generate an acknowledgment?

    5. Is the contact Email live?

    When was it created, and last updated?

    1. Does the site tell you when it was created?

    2. Does the site provide a "last modified" date?

    3. If so, is it in the last 6 months?

    4. Have you found any dead links?

    5. Does the site appear to be up to date in its content?

    Is it relevant to you?

    1. Is the site from your own country?

    2. Does the site say who its content is aimed at?

    3. Are you in the target group for that site?

    4. Are you the right age, gender, ethnicity?

    5. Are you being sure you are not being unduly influenced by wanting to believe that it applies to you?

    Does it mention risks?

    1. Does it describe how the treatment works?

    2. Does it describe the benefits of treatment?

    3. Does it describe the risks of treatment?

    4. Does it describe for whom the treatment is inappropriate?

    5. Does it describe the consequences of non-treatment?

    Does it offer choices?

    1. Does it describe a range of treatment options?

    2. Does it provide evidence to help you decide?

    3. Does it favor one action without evidence?

    4. Does it advise who can help you choose?

    5. Does it advise choices for specific types of people?

    Does it tell you where it got its information from?

    1. Does the site acknowledge where information comes from other places?

    2. Does the site tell you where information comes from?

    3. Does the site provide access to the original material?

    4. Does the site allow you to judge the credibility of its sources?

    5. Does the site use up to date reliable sources?

    Is it easy to use and find your way around?

    1. Is the site well laid out and uncluttered?

    2. Is the site structured in a clear way?

    3. Does the site use color to provide good contrast to make it readable?

    4. Does the site conform to accessibility standards?

    5. Does the site use language that you can understand to prevent you misunderstanding what is being said?