HealthSavvy: Evaluating Health Web Sites

Who is sponsoring this web site?

Anyone can put information on the Internet and make it look *professional.* The most reliable health information is generated by government agencies (National Institutes of Health), health associations (American Lung Association), professional organizations (American Academy of Ophthalmology) and research centers (Johns Hopkins). Sites produced by major drug companies, certified health care professionals and libraries are also reliable. Be wary of health information authored by private individuals unless you can verify their credentials. Look for a link to the Web site's sponsoring organization. If you do not recognize the name of this organization/research center/hospital/person) read the "about us" information.

What information is on this Web site?

Is it a...

If the Web site does not meet your particular research needs (or is too complicated/simplistic), skip it.

Why did this organization put up this Web site?

If it's a federal mandate (PubMed), organizational goal (American Diabetes Association), public service (Medical Society of New Jersey's Physician Finder database) or grant requirement (HRLC's HealthSavvy) the information is reliable. If the Web site is trying sell you something, double check the information provided. These sites rarely present a balanced view of their product and/or the condition it is supposed to treat.

When was the last time the information on the Web site was updated?

The best health Web sites are constantly adding new information, updating existing pages and eliminating old data to reflect the latest medical findings. There are several ways to find out when the site was last updated. Check for news/press releases (nothing since October 1997? forget it!) and revision dates on specific pages (usually found at the very top or bottom of the page). This Web page was last updated on 4/24/01. What about the links? If many links on a Web site are *dead* that tells you the webmaster is not maintaining the site on a regular basis.

Where is the producer of the Web site physically located?

Do they make it easy for you to contact them? The very best Web sites offer three options: HQ address, telephone number (toll-free if available) and e-mail (direct link or form). Be very wary of organizations/companies/professionals that only offer the e-mail option, especially if they are selling products. You may have a difficult time recouping your money.

How easy (or hard) is it to use this Web site?

Some sites are well planned and others are veritable design nightmares. The majority of reliable health Web sites are designed to make information easy to find, read and print. The best ones offer site maps enabling you to determine what information is available and exactly where it is. Web sites that feature flashy backgrounds, tiny print, annoying boxes popping on your screen and other distractions are usually not worth the aggravation, no matter how great the information they contain. Caveat: good design does not automatically mean good information.

Evaluating Health Web Sites: The Quiz

This quiz has been designed to help you verify your understanding of the principles of sound web site evaluation.

  1. I can trust the health information I find on the National Cancer Institute's Web site.
  2. You are likely to get the most reliable information from a Web site that is trying to sell you something since an educated consumer is the best customer.
  3. A well designed Web site obviously contains reliable information.
  4. It's important to find out when a health-related Web site was last updated.
  5. I'm not a doctor, so there is no point in me checking for information in professional medical databases. I won't understand it anyhow.
  6. It's a good idea to start your research with news sites like MSNBC.
  7. This doctor really sounds like an expert...look at his impressive list of appearances and articles. Is it necessary to check his credentials?

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