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Wellness Guide: Evaluate your Sources

All of the wellness information you will ever need

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Look for Reliable Information

The Internet is a wonderful source of information, but since it's unregulated you need to ensure the information you use to make decisions is based on reliable information from trustworthy sources.  This is particularly true with health-related information.  The HON Code and MedLine Plus Guide provided below are two excellent ways to appraise health information.

Health on the Net Foundation

HONCode

The Health On the Net Foundation (HON) promotes and guides the deployment of useful and reliable online health information.  The HON Foundation established a voluntary code of ethical conduct, the HONcode, which specifies eight principles intended to hold website developers to basic ethical standards and to make sure consumers always know the source and purpose of the data they are reading.

Read their evaluation guide to see how they assess and issue HONcode certifications.  Look for the logo on websites you visit to help assess their validity.

MedLine Plus Guide to Healthy Web Surfing


What should you look for when evaluating the quality of health information on Web sites?

Consider the source--Use recognized authorities

  • Look for an "about us" page. Check to see who runs the site: is it a branch of the Federal Government, a non-profit institution, a professional organization, a health system, a commercial organization or an individual.
  • There is a big difference between a site that says, "I developed this site after my heart attack" and one that says, "This page on heart attack was developed by health professionals at the American Heart Association."
  • Web sites should have a way to contact the organization or webmaster. If the site provides no contact information, or if you can't easily find out who runs the site, use caution.

Focus on quality--Does the site have an editorial board?

  • This information is often on the "about us" page, or it may be under the organization's mission statement, or part of the annual report.
  • See if the board members are experts in the subject of the site. For example, a site on osteoporosis whose medical advisory board is composed of attorneys and accountants is not medically authoritative.
  • Look for a description of the process of selecting or approving information on the site. It is usually in the "about us" section and may be called "editorial policy" or "selection policy" or "review policy."
  • Sometimes the site will have information "about our writers" or "about our authors" instead of an editorial policy. Review this section to find out who has written the information.

Be a cyberskeptic--Quackery abounds on the Web

  • Beware of claims that one remedy will cure a variety of illnesses, that it is a "breakthrough," or that it relies on a "secret ingredient."
  • Use caution if the site uses a sensational writing style (lots of exclamation points, for example.)
  • A health Web site for consumers should use simple language, not technical jargon.
  • Get a second opinion! Check more than one site.

Look for the evidence--Rely on medical research, not opinion

  • Look for the author of the information, either an individual or an organization. Good examples are "Written by Jane Smith, R.N.," or "Copyright 2003, American Cancer Society."
  • If there are case histories or testimonials on the Web site, look for contact information such as an email address or telephone number. If the testimonials are anonymous or hard to track down ("Jane from California"), use caution.

Check for currency--Look for the latest information

  • Look for dates on documents. A document on coping with the loss of a loved one doesn't need to be current, but a document on the latest treatment of AIDS needs to be current.
  • Click on a few links on the site. If there are a lot of broken links, the site may not be kept up-to-date.

Beware of bias--What is the purpose? Who is providing the funding?

  • Check to see if the site is supported by public funds, donations or by commercial advertising.
  • Advertisements should be labeled. They should say "Advertisement" or "From our Sponsor."
  • Look at a page on the site, and see if it is clear when content is coming from a non-commercial source and when an advertiser provides it. For example, if a page about treatment of depression recommends one drug by name, see if you can tell if the company that manufactures the drug provides that information. If it does, you should consult other sources to see what they say about the same drug.

Protect your privacy--Health information should be confidential

  • There should be a link saying "Privacy" or "Privacy Policy." Read the privacy policy to see if your privacy is really being protected. For example, if the site says "We share information with companies that can provide you with useful products," then your information isn't private.
  • If there is a registration form, notice what types of questions you must answer before you can view content. If you must provide personal information (such as name, address, date of birth, gender, mother's maiden name, credit card number) you should refer to their privacy policy to see what they can do with your information.

Consult with your health professional--Patient/provider partnerships lead to the best medical decisions.

For further information: Visit the MedlinePlus page on Evaluating Health Information and Evaluating Internet Health Information: A Tutorial from the National Library of Medicine.

Nursing & Health Sciences Librarian

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Alysha Sapp
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TCU Box 298400

Fort Worth, TX 76129

817-257-5348
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Subjects: Anesthesia, Nursing