Research shows that about 80% of Internet users have searched online for health information. There are many reasons for this, including convenience, privacy and low cost. It is very easy to find information on many topics, such as nutrition, exercise, medical conditions and drugs. While there are many good sites for health information there are also many sites that should be avoided. The question for the consumer is how to find the good sites.
Keep these basic points in mind when searching:
- Know the source – use websites developed and maintained by well known organizations, such as the American Diabetes Association or the National Institutes of Health.
- Ask yourself, is the site primarily a commercial site designed to sell a product or is it for the purpose of educating and supporting people? Is the website covered with advertisements that make it confusing to tell the ads from the information?
- Look for an “About Us” section that tells you who supports the website and how to contact them.
- Look for quality – use websites that indicate where the information comes from, who wrote it, and how long ago. A site with broken links might not have been updated lately. Look for information that is based on scientific evidence that comes from clinical studies.
One website we recommend is MedlinePlus (http://medlineplus.gov/) from the National Library of Medicine. It is easy to navigate and includes material that is easy to read.
You should never change a treatment that your doctor has prescribed for you because of something you read or see on the Internet or on television. . If you see something on the Internet or on TV that causes you to question your treatment plan, talk to your doctor about it. You might have found information that is accurate but may not apply to your circumstance or condition. Work with your health care provider in a partnership; together you can make the best decisions about your health.
Alan Lampson, M.L.S., CHIS is a medical librarian and is lead of the Frymoyer Community Health Resource Center at the UVM Medical Center.