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How To Assess Health Information On The Web

If you are like many Canadians, you use the Internet as a key source of health information. In fact, that may be what brought you to Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation’s web site today. 

The Internet is a tool that allows you to gather information, learn about health-related subjects, and may help you make more informed decisions about your health. It also offers a way to prepare yourself with questions to ask your health care provider. Bear in mind, though, that not all the information you find on the Internet will be reliable.

Most of us value having access to credible, independent, unbiased information that we can use to help guide our decision making. You can find this on the Internet, but there are a few key questions to ask as you assess just how credible, independent and unbiased the health information you find online really is.

Assessing Health Web Sites‒Key Questions To Ask

The following questions can help guide you on your search for credible health information.

  1. Who are they?

    When you visit a web site, you should be able to tell straight away who it belongs to. Look for an “about us” section and a contact link to learn more about the organization behind the web site and whether or not they can be contacted. You may also wish to do a separate Internet search to see what you can find more about who they are, from other sources. If the web site does not have an “about us” section or “contact us” information, keep surfing for more credible and reliable web sites.

  2. Who is the web site sponsored by?

    Commercial companies and industry know that the public values credible, independent, unbiased information. Some web sites that are sponsored, or paid for, by commercial interests or industrial lobby groups are designed to look as though they come from an independent, non-industry source.

    Who the site is sponsored by should be clearly stated, so that you are aware of potential bias in the information provided. If sponsorship information is not given or is deeply buried, it’s important to ask yourself why they are not being transparent and to look elsewhere for more independent and credible information sources.

  3. Is the web site trying to sell you something?

    Some commercial web sites provide good information, but be aware that they may have a biased point of view. Beware of sites that try to get you to pay for resources before giving away any information.

  4. Is the content informed by independent medical or scientific research?

    Many of the best web sites with health information are based on up-to-date research. Look on the web site for references to independent research studies that have been peer reviewed by other experts and published in recognized journals. Credible contributors of health information include reliable and authoritative sources such as non-profit health organizations, academic institutions or the government.

  5. Is the information up to date?

    Web sites that look like they have not been updated in several months or even years are usually not as reliable or credible as ones that have a lot of recent activity. Look for the dates of web articles, references or media releases, and the copyright date at the bottom of the web page.

  6. Are they asking too much information about you?

    Health information is private to you, so it is important to think twice when you are asked to provide personal information. If you have to register to use a web site, find out first how your personal information will be used. The web site’s privacy policy should be easy to access and clearly describe how your personal information will be used. If you are not comfortable with the conditions, look elsewhere for information. There is certainly no shortage of health information out there!