Finding relable health and medical information online
Perhaps not surprisingly the best way to approach this topic is to enter the above heading into your favourite search engine.
This article is designed to introduce you to those sites that are well-regarded by the scientific and medical professional communities. You will find a number of well-respected organisations that can help you learn how to avoid the many pitfalls out there on the web and to avoid.
For general information which is relevant regardless of your country of residence, a good place to start is the webpage article on Evaluating Health Information provided by the U.S. National Library of Medicine which is part of the National Institutes of Health in the U.S.
We strongly recommend that you look at this site. If you have time you can watch the 16 minute video tutorial on Evaluating Internet Health Information.
If you don’t have time for this then follow the link to the MedlinePlus Guide to Healthy Web Surfing.
For an Australian guide to safe searching for health information on the internet check the Better Health Channel guide.
Another brief but useful guide is the American Family Doctor guide to Health Information on the Web: Finding Reliable Information.
We will not try to repeat everything that is so well presented by the above sites. However you always want to know several things. Who is responsible for the site? Are they experts in the field? Is the information current? If they are trying to sell you something then beware! Be very careful of chat rooms or online discussion sites. While we may amongst trusted friends sometimes follow the advice of someone we know who says “Well I tried X and it worked for me.” On the internet this is a recipe for being led up the garden path. We don’t know if the person posting is who they say they are, we don’t know if they are telling the truth or the whole story and we don’t know their motivation for posting.
For Australians seeking country-specific information and links to local organisations, the best place to go for information about pathology testing is of course Lab Tests Online-AU. However even in pathology we can’t cover everything and you might find yourself looking elsewhere. If so always heed the guidelines provided by National Library of Medicine mentioned earlier.
For other non-pathology medical information the best place to start is Healthdirect Australia, a guide to reliable health information funded by the Australian Federal Government Department of Health. Healthdirect will lead you only to other sites that have been evaluated and found to be reliable. Again if you need to look further be careful: sites that end in .gov .edu and .org (with or without the additional .au at the end) are more likely to be reliable than .com or .com.au sites but this is not always true. For example myDr in Australia and webMD in the US are both generally reliable and useful websites. However webMD and also the Mayo Clinic website have both been criticised in a Quackwatch HON Violators article as being too lenient on unproven “alternative and complementary” methods and these two sites are both rated in the top five health information websites in the US!
Another indicator of reliability is the HONcode logo as displayed on the Lab Tests Online pages. Sites accredited by the Health on the Net Foundation are required to subscribe to eight principles enumerated in the HONcode and except for a few violators as listed in the Quackwatch article above are generally reliable.
On that note we leave you to search with skepticism and care. Look for the evidence that a test, a treatment or a medicine have been proven to work, don’t rely on anecdotes.