The Internet can be a wonderful resource for quickly finding answers to your questions, but it can also be a source of much misinformation. To ensure that the sites you visit are reliable and trustworthy, follow these tips.
- Look for websites sponsored by an official government agency, a university or college, or a hospital/medical center. Government sites are easily identified by their .gov extensions, college and university sites typically have .edu extensions and many hospitals have a .org extension. Major philanthropic foundations, such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation, and others, often provide information about selected health topics. In addition, national nonprofit organizations, such as the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society, are often good, authoritative sources of information. Foundations and nonprofits usually have URLs ending with a .org extension. Lastly, if you’ve asked for personal information, look for the prefix https, indicating an encrypted(and more secure) connection.
- Search for well-established, professionally peer-reviewed journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine (http://content.nejm. org) or the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA, https:// jama.ama-assn.org). Although some of these sites require a fee for access, you can often locate concise abstracts and information that can help you conduct a search. Your college may make these journals available to students at no cost.
- Consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov) for consumer news, updates, and alerts.
- For a global perspective on health issues, visit the World Health Organization (www.who.int/en).
- There are many governments- and education-based sites that are independently sponsored and reliable. Some of these include:
- Aetna Intelihealth: www.intelihealth.com
- FamilyDoctor.org: familydoctor.org
- MedlinePlus: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus
- Go Ask Alice!: www.goaskalice.columbia.edu
- WebMD Health: webmd.com
- The nonprofit health care accrediting organization Utilization Accreditation Review Commission (URAC; www.urac.org) has devised more than 50 criteria that health sites must satisfy to display its seal. Look for the “URAC Accredited Health Web Site” seal on websites you visit.
- Finally, gather information from two or more reliable sources to see whether facts and figures are consistent. Avoid websites that try to sell you something, whether products like dietary supplements or services such as medical testing. When I doubt, check with your own health care provider, health education professor, or state health division website.