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DocSpot: Finding health information on the Internet

Putting sites to the test

How can you tell if a site is trustworthy? For assessing the validity of information given on health websites I recommend looking at a webpage produced by the UK Open University: www.open2.net/healtheducation/health_socialcare/thebestoftheweb.html. For an assessment tool created by Oxford University researchers look at www.discern.org.uk. This consists of 15 questions that will help you decide if a health site is likely to be accurate and balanced.

Whose site is it?

The site provider should be clear. Read the information given very carefully as it can sometimes be misleading. For example, someone at a university may be given as the author. However, the university may simply host the site and not have responsibility for the content, which rests solely with the named individual.
 

Is the provider qualified to give information?

 If the site is provided by a well-known organization with experience in a particular area, you can be reasonably certain that the information is reliable. But it is not always this easy and some detective work might be necessary. Also, beware of sites that describe the benefit of a product and then tell you how to buy it. They are advertising, and the information is likely to be biased. On the other hand, some big pharmaceutical and healthcare companies have very good, unbiased sites carrying balanced information - by providing a high-quality site that doesn't push their product, they know they will improve their image.
 

What country is the site from?

 Every country has a different healthcare system. Drugs that are licensed in one country may not be available in another, so some of the information may not be relevant to you.
 

Should I still talk to my doctor?

 It can be very reassuring to visit a website devoted to a particular problem, and realize that many other people have a similar worry or difficulty. However, there may be reasons that you are unaware of why the information does not fit your particular case. The sheer quantity of information on the Internet can be overwhelming, causing you to end up with an unbalanced view of a problem. Use the Internet for background information, and see your doctor for any problem that is really troubling you or to help you sort out confusing information. If possible, take a print-out with you so your doctor knows what you are talking about.

Last updated; Monday, June 7th 2010 at 3:43 am


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