By Sean Eads
Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Autumn/Winter
Finding and evaluating healthcare information can be tricky, particularly if you’re searching the Internet. Rumors, misunderstandings, biased opinions, and outright lies await.
Perhaps the most well-known (and sometimes infamous) Internet research resource is Wikipedia. Its open-ended nature makes it a microcosm for all that is right and wrong with online information gathering. Some Wikipedia entries, like some websites, are created by people with expert knowledge of their topic. Others are not. Imagine if the entries in Encyclopedia Britannica changed depending on the time of day. That is often the case with Wikipedia, yet it has become so popular that its entries are often the first to come up in general search engine retrievals.
When it comes to getting health information online, save yourself a lot of time by avoiding general search engines like Google. Start at Web resources dedicated to providing only peer-reviewed medical information. Webmd.com and Healthfinder.gov are two excellent resources where the articles are researched and written by professionals. Try AskDrWiki.com for your medical searches; its articles can only be composed and edited by qualified medical professionals. Check out a very specific search engine like Healthline.com or Medhunt.com. Also try Searchmedica.com—a search engine of many health magazines and databases.
Keep in mind the following basic points when you review a website:
Determine Who Has Authored The Website.
Does the author list his or her credentials? Does the information have documentation?
Consider The Feel And Tone Of The Website Itself. This can be tricky. There are a lot of very neat, professional-looking websites out there publishing bogus information. Remember design speaks to the level of the creator’s artistic skill, not possible medical knowledge.
Evaluate The Site’s Advertisers. Does the site seem to be trying to sell you something? Sometimes the type of advertisements found on a website will reveal its biases or agendas.
Look At The Website Address Suffix. Does it end in .com, .edu, .org, or .gov? Extensions are often quick ways to judge the possible authority of a web resource. Addresses ending in .edu tend to be academic, originating from colleges and universities; similarly, .gov indicates a government website.