The Internet is teeming with health information websites that appear to have a wealth of knowledge. The problem is that you cannot tell at first glance which of these websites you should trust.
Here at EmpowHER, we try to provide solid reliable health information backed with reputable sources or interviews with health providers. Articles that are sponsored by outside companies say so, right at the top of the article.
When looking for health information you can trust, there are some big indicators that the website is more likely to have reliable information.
To start, let’s look at a recent description of how Google plans to guarantee better search results in the current presidential campaign claims using fact checking.
According to the LA Times:
“To qualify, stories must have easily identifiable claims and conclusions, and the analysis must be 'transparent about sources and methods, with citations and references to primary sources', according to Google.”
“But there is some element of human judgment — Google says the organization publishing the story must be nonpartisan with 'transparent funding and affiliations' and can’t target one person or entity in its fact checks.”
This is a pretty concise description of what you too should look for in your health-related search results.
You want to know:
1) Is the source of the information reputable?
Who is providing or endorsing the information? Does the website use input from more than one person or one source to support their statements?
Government websites and sites with a medical affiliation are more likely to be reliable.
Some of these websites even have alternative health information, which is a better source of potentially non-mainstream practices since they report the results of peer-reviewed studies to test those products or practices.
2) Are there a variety of reputable sources or hyperlinks to back up their claims?
This is most important, especially when reading alternative websites for health information. For example, if you search the Internet for use of cayenne pepper to prevent heart attacks you find many hits.
But if you search for a reputable site written by a doctor who cites an actual study and interview with the original researcher about the potential effect cayenne has on the heart, you will get better information. By the way, cayenne cannot prevent a heart attack.
Be careful about reading claims backed by studies that were only performed on animals or on cells in a petri dish. These results are not directly transferable to a benefit to humans. Be suspicious if a website claims differently.
3) Are they selling something?
Many websites have a bunch of ads running along the edge, which may or may not offer information for those in poor health. Websites need funding from somewhere and ads can provide that.
At the same time, actually endorsing products that the website conveniently happens to sell may mean their information is biased. You would want to verify from several other places that the information is supported.
4) How current is the information?
Information that is over three years old is not considered current and may actually present older practices that are no longer used.
Reliable General Health Websites:
These are some of the health website endorsed by CAPHIS, which is the Consumer and Patient Health Information Section of the Medical Library Association.
1) Medline Plus
Produced by the National Library of Medicine, a part of the National Institutes of Health, covers a variety of topics with explanations and images, and can be searched in other languages.
Produced by the Cleveland Clinic to provide health information to health professionals and the general public.
“One of the best government websites on the Internet, its coverage is broad,” according to CAPHIS.
4) Mayo Clinic
Health information from over 3,000 physicians, scientists and researchers.
General health information presented at the reading level of 6th to 8th grade.
OBOS started as a groundbreaking book for women’s health in 1971. Started by the Boston Woman’s Health Collective, the website has a wealth of information regarding women’s sexual and reproductive health.
You can also see more websites at the 2015 CAPHIS Top 100 List: Health Websites You Can Trust.
You can find websites that Johns Hopkins recommends here.
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in women’s health care and quality of care issues.
Edited by Jody Smith
With 'fact check' label, Google News risks accusations of partisan bias. Retrieved October 15, 2016.
Can Cayenne Pepper Really Stop a Heart Attack? The Survival Doctor.com Retrieved October 15, 2016.
Top 100 List: Health Websites You Can Trust. Caphis.org. Retrieved October 15, 2016.
Reliable Health Information on the Internet A Reference Guide. Johns Hopkins Medicine.org. Retrieved October 15, 2016.