What questions should you ask when looking at a webpage offering health information? The
National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) has put together
useful advice to help the public evaluate the ever growing number of
health websites on the Internet.
NNLM site begins by pointing out what should be obvious to everyone but
is nonetheless extremely pertinent: Anyone can post anything they want
on the Internet. As a result, the Internet contains questionable (even
dangerous) medical information as well as sound information. Here are
some questions you can ask to tell the difference.
Is the information accurate?
Is it based on sound medical research that can be verified by another source?
Does the site contain references that would allow you to verify that the cited information is reliable? Remember that an article in Prevention magazine does not carry the same weight as one in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
If the site mentions a study done at a well-known academic institution, is there a reference to the author or publication? Several
times I have seen products recommended on the basis of studies carried
out at Johns Hopkins, even though no such study was ever done.
Is the information authoritative?
What are the credentials of the person publishing the page?
Is the person backed by a known organization or academic institution? It’s easy to make up an impressive- sounding name for an organization that exists only at the home of the person’s website.
Does the webpage contain contact information for an individual or organization?
Does the domain name, such as a ".edu" or ".gov," indicate a reliable organization, or is the webpage a personal one?
Is the information objective or biased?
Does the information show only one point of view?
Is the webpage sponsored by a pharmaceutical company or a non-profit organization?
Can you tell if the information is an advertisement?
Does the site appeal to the emotions with capital letters, exclamation marks, or with words like "miracle cure" or "breakthrough"?
Is the author improperly using data to promote a product?
Is the information current and complete?
When was the page last updated?
Are sources given for additional and more current information?
Why did the person create the page?
If they trying to sell me something, what’s in it for them?