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How to find reliable health information on the Internet

The number of health-related websites is growing every day. Although there is a lot of useful health information available on the Web, it is important to know that not all the information is reliable, accurate and unbiased. Some of it can be harmful.

This is why it is important for you to be able to identify reliable, quality health information sites.

Talk with your health care provider about the website

The information you find on the Web is a good way to start a discussion with your health care provider. Your provider can help you decide if the information you found applies to your situation.

Information you find on any website does not replace the medical advice of your health care provider. There is no substitute for a good relationship with him or her.

When looking at a website, use the following questions to help you decide if the site you are viewing is reliable. Even if you are comfortable with the answers to all of these questions, remember there is no guarantee that the information is reliable and accurate.

Site purpose and content

  • Who is sponsoring the website? Are they trying to sell you something?
  • Who is the producer, author and/or creator of the content? Look for an "About us" page.
  • Is the information backed up by research and are there references? Can the source be verified?
  • Does the information seem credible and objective, or is it someone's opinion?
  • Can you contact the author?
  • How is the information presented? Is the intent to educate, advertise or advocate? Is it biased?
  • What expertise does the author have? Are his or her credentials listed?
  • Are there links to other sites? Are those links appropriate and up-to-date? Do they work? Do they seem reliable?

Site timeliness

  • When was the site produced?
  • When was the information last modified, revised or updated?
  • Are dates easily located?

Site privacy

  • Does the site have a privacy policy? Is it clear how any information you provide might be used?
  • What kind of information are they collecting?
  • Can you access information without giving out personal information?

Site design

  • Is it easy to navigate?
  • Can you search the site?
  • Does the site download in a reasonable amount of time?
  • Does the site work with your Web browser?
  • Does the site work on a mobile device?

HONcode seal of approval

HONcode

Look for the HONcode seal of approval on any medical- or health-related website you visit. The Health On the Net Foundation is a self-governing body that developed a code of ethical conduct, or code of "good behavior."

This seal of approval is intended to make sure readers know the source and purpose of the data presented. Only members in good standing can display the HONcode logo. Allina Health is a member of HON.

Understanding what type of website you found

Here are a few guidelines that can help you understand the different types of Web addresses.

  • .gov is a U.S. government site. The information was prepared by a government agency, such as the Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Department of Agriculture or the National Institutes of Health. The information is reliable if it is current.
  • .edu is a site that may or may not be prepared by a university or college. The site may have been prepared by a student.
  • .com (originally for commercial sites), .org (originally for nonprofit sites) and .net are available for anyone to use for their website. Any of these types of sites may be selling products or information.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, How to Find Reliable Health Information on the Internet, gen-ahc-11366
Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts
First Published: 05/10/2011
Last Reviewed: 04/10/2011