Evaluating Medical Information on the Web
Anyone with a computer
and Internet access can create a Web site, so judging the trustworthiness
of scientific and health-related sites becomes the responsibility of
each individual user. The following questions and answers serve as a
starting point for evaluating medical Web sites. See also links to additional
resources on this topic.
Is This Site
Web site should identify and describe the sponsoring organization
as well as provide contact information that visitors can use to ask
questions, request additional information, or send comments about
publications and Web sites are often good sources for scientifically
sound health and medical information. Private practitioners or lay
organizations may have marketing, social, or political agendas that
can influence the type of material they offer on-site and which sites
they link to.
A couple of good
resources for accessing government-sponsored health information is
and the National Library of Medicine's MEDLINEplus.
the site link to other good sources of medical information?
A reputable organization
will not position itself as the sole source on a particular health
topic and will link to complementary sources of information. Links
alone are not a guarantee of reliability; any Web site can link to
other sites, including those that contain questionable information.
supported by references to reputable sources?
claims that you find on the Web should be supported by legitimate
research and medical institutions or peer-reviewed, scholarly publications.
The following guides contain tips and criteria for distinguishing
popular or trade magazines from scientific, scholarly journals.
Versus Popular Information
- An educational module that is part of Internet Navigator, a Web-delivered
information literacy course developed by a team of academic librarians
in Utah. Although it is targeted to high school or first-year college
and university students, anyone can use this resource to build basic
research skills for using libraries and the Internet.
Magazines vs. Trade Magazines vs. Scholarly Journals - This
site from the Colorado State University Libraries describes general
criteria for distinguishing between popular magazines and scholarly
journals. Criteria for evaluating articles available on the Web
also are included.
are researching a condition that affects you or someone you know,
even if health-related information comes from a source that is reputed
to be reliable, always check with a doctor to make sure that it is
appropriate for your situation.
When was the
site last updated?
more current the site, the more likely it is to provide timely material.
Ideally, health and medical sites should be updated weekly or monthly.
Has the site
been reviewed for mistakes in grammar or spelling?
If a site contains
several grammatical, spelling, or other errors, it shows
that the content has not been carefully reviewed, and therefore its
accuracy may be questionable.
graphics and multimedia files such as video or audio clips available?
can be useful in clarifying and explaining medical conditions and
procedures, but they should not substitute for information based on
sound medical or scientific evidence.
Questions and answers adapted from U.S. Food and
Drug Administration Publication
No. (FDA) 99-1253.
Resources for Evaluating Health-Related Web Sites
User's Guide to Finding and Evaluating Health Information on the Web
- Find content evaluation guidelines and recommended sources from
the Medical Library Association.
Things to Know about Evaluating Medical Resources on the Web -
Ten basic questions to consider when evaluating medical resources
on the Web. From the National Cancer Institute.
Health Information - A collection of resources from MEDLINEplus,
a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National
Institutes of Health.
Watch - This Web site is dedicated to increasing public awareness
of health-related frauds and fallacies. In addition to providing guides
and tips for evaluating health-related resources, this site also includes
lists of products, services, theories, and advertisements that are
considered questionable or not recommended by the medical community.
for Medical and Health Information Sites on the Internet - American
Medical Association's overview of recommendations for maintaining
health-related Web sites.
The QUality Information ChecKlist - Targeted to a younger audience
and produced by two nonprofit organizations in the United Kingdom,
this site can serve as an educational aid for individuals of all ages.
Evaluation criteria are presented in a checklist of questions and
answers, with examples to illustrate each point.
"Treatments" Can Be Real-World Deceptions - This Federal
Trade Commission (FTC) Consumer Alert provides a list of tips
to help consumers spot phony and deceptive claims in advertisements
for health-related products or therapies. It also tells consumers
how to file a complaint with the FTC and provides a link to a collection
information resources. See also 'Miracle'
Health Claims: Add a Dose of Skepticism.
Market Withdrawals and Safety Alerts - The U.S. Food and Drug
Administration posts the latest alerts and recalls regarding medical
devices, drugs, vaccines, and other biologics.
Current Health Related Hoaxes and Rumors - In addition to evaluating
medical Web sites, consumers should also be aware of sources they
can access to debunk medical misinformation posted on message boards
or forwarded in e-mails. This list of current health-related hoaxes
and rumors is provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A more comprehensive collection of rumors, hoaxes, and urban legends
on a variety of subjects can be accessed from Urban
Legends and Folklore at About.com.