Search for Health Information
Evaluating Health Websites
There are hundreds of sites on the Internet which provide consumer health information. However, many of these come from unreliable sources, or they are out of date. Sometimes they are personal opinions of an individual, or they are from commerical organizations trying to sell a product. To make sure you are retrieving trustworthy and current information, be aware of the following questions when searching.
- Who owns the site?
Can you trust the source to give you reliable, unbiased
information about health? Examples of reliable sources would
be sites of medical schools, physicians groups, government,
hospitals, universities, health libraries, etc. Look for
a link which says "About Us" or even better, a
Mission Statement. The name of the originator of the site
will often be provided at the very bottom of the homepage.
- Is the site current?
A good site will generally provide a date when information
was last added. Often this will be given either in the top
right hand corner of the homepage, or again down at the
- Who is the intended audience?
The site may be directed towards health professionals or
medical students and contain a great deal of technical data
and medical terminology. Or it may be directed at high school
students, and be overly simple. Ensure that you are obtaining
clear, accurate information at a level you can understand.
- Is there advertising on the site?
Be very wary of sites which contain advertising. The content
may be biased to please the advertiser. There are exceptions
- the Mayo Clinic site does contain some advertising but
because of its undoubted authority and standard of excellence
it is a recommended source.
- Is the content accurate?
Any study or survey presented should provide full
information about the purpose, scope, author, location and
date of the study. Do not trust statements like "a
study shows such and such" when further information
is not given.
- Is the content biased? Make
sure that the information is not slanted to support a particular
idea or theory. If it is, then a disclaimer letting you
know this should be provided. Also check for vested interests
e.g. sites sponsored by a particular commercial organization.
- Is the site well designed and easy
to follow? Badly designed sites can cause you to
miss vital information. If you are lost trying to navigate
a site, look for a link to "Site Map.". This is
often helpful as it should detail where to find what on
the site. If a search engine is included at the site, make
sure you are aware of its scope - sometimes they are very
basic and may be misleading.
- Are there a good set of links to
other useful sites? Links to other sites can be very
useful, provided the person or group making the selection
has the authority and credentials to do so. If there are
many "dead" links, i.e. to sites which no longer
exist or have changed, be wary of the list. A good one should
be constantly updated.