Are you looking for a new recipe, what book to read next or the best movie to stream Saturday evening?
Chances are you will go online to find the answer to those questions and answers to many other every day questions. The Internet is now our go-to source for all kinds of information. This is also true for health information including symptoms, treatments and where to get care. But the accuracy of the answers to questions about health is much more critical than the recommendation for this Saturday’s movie. How can you be sure the health information on websites is accurate? Here are some tips from the U.S. National Library of Medicine to help you in navigating the Internet’s vast repository of health information.
• Be sure to use recognized authorities or organizations. Review the “about us” page of the site you are visiting. There should also be contact information about the organization. Individuals can and do develop websites to share their experiences with cancer or other health issues. There will be a big difference between these personal sites and ones developed by professional organizations, the federal government, a health system or a non-profit.
• Look for quality measures. Once again look at the “about us” page. Is there an annual report? A board of directors? Are they experts in the subject of the website? Is there information about how facts get to the page? An example of this would be an editorial board. Also, see if they have information about the writers.
• Be very skeptical. Remember you are looking for facts about a health issue. Quacks are online. Is it too good to be true? Check more than one site and get a second opinion on everything. Also, health sites for consumers should be easy to read. The information should be in simple terms — not full of jargon or very technical language.
• Look for facts. You want a site that is based on medical research or facts, not opinions.
• Be sure to look for current data. Check that the webpage has the latest information available. There should be dates on the documents; this is especially important for any drug or treatment facts.
• Be very aware of bias. Who is funding the site? For example, a webpage by a drug company will talk about that particular drug. It can be very accurate, but they may not discuss any other drugs or treatment. What is the purpose of the site? Any advertisement should be labeled.
• Keep your health care provider in the loop. A partnership will give you the best medical decisions.
The Northeast Regional Cancer Institute is a nonprofit, community-based agency working to ease the burden of cancer in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Focusing on community and patient services, hospital and practice support services and survivorship, 100 percent of Cancer Institute resources are invested in this region. For more information about the cancer institute, visit www.cancernepa.org or call (800) 424-6724.