The internet and your health information
Can the internet be trusted for your health information?
Experiencing a strange ache or just diagnosed with a chronic disease? Did your doctor give you information but you still have questions? In these situations, many turn the internet for health advice, but how do you know if you can trust the information you discover?
Guidelines to follow to help ensure the health information you are receiving is accurate:
Who is responsible for the site and its information? It should be from a reputable resource and should be easily seen on each page or almost all web pages.
Where the funds are coming to keep the site up and running. Respectable funding for websites typically have addresses ending in “.gov”, “.edu”, “.org” and “.com” identifies a commercial organization. Commercial websites may change the content of the website to match marketing needs and/or purposes.
Look at the health information website’s original information. Sometimes health information on websites has been used from other sources which could be good information, but that should be accessible for your review. Good health information should identify medical and scientific facts with references to published material. Testimonials, on the other hand, are not evidence based and cannot be trusted.
Health information should be current. Health information is constantly changing, so it needs to updated regularly from the person responsible for the website.
Linking policy can make the site more trustworthy. Usually web sites have a policy of the links they post on their sites. Checking the websites linking policy can give information of where their sponsorship.
What information about the users of the site does the website collect and why do they collect it? Many health related websites ask users to ‘subscribe’ or ‘become a member’ of the site and may be an opportunity for website owners to collect personal information about the user of the site.
The Federal government does protect consumers. Check out these websites for help with regulations regarding websites.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- FDA 101: Health Fraud Awareness
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
- National Institutes of Health
It can be confusing to find reliable health information on the internet and there are many sites to check out for answers to health questions. Turning to Michigan State University Extension is a good resource for web-based information as well as health programming for people of all ages in counties across Michigan.
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