Tips on Identifying Reliable Health Information on the Internet


If you’ve landed here as a result of a Google, Yahoo,  Bing, or other search engine, you already know how many results you can get in mere seconds and even sometimes nano-seconds. Thousands! So you wade through the results hoping for reliable and trustworthy information. Unfortunately, not everything out there is reliable and trustworthy. And even if it is reliable and trustworthy, you should ALWAYS check with a professional prior to implementing or stopping any treatment.

Here are some general tips to help you tell the good from the bad (source: Medical Library Association):

1. Sponsorship
  • Can you easily identify the site sponsor? Sponsorship is important because it helps establish the site as respected and dependable. Does the site list advisory board members or consultants? This may give you further insights on the credibility of information published on the site.
  • The web address itself can provide additional information about the nature of the site and the sponsor’s intent.
    • A government agency has .gov in the address.
    • An educational institution is indicated by .edu in the address.
    • A professional organization such as a scientific or research society will be identified as .org. For example, the American Cancer Society’s website is http://www.cancer.org/.
    • Commercial sites identified by .com will most often identify the sponsor as a company, for example Merck & Co., the pharmaceutical firm.
  • What should you know about .com health sites? Commercial sites may represent a specific company or be sponsored by a company using the web for commercial reasons—to sell products. At the same time, many commercial websites have valuable and credible information. Many hospitals have .com in their address. The site should fully disclose the sponsor of the site, including the identities of commercial and noncommercial organizations that have contributed funding, services, or material to the site.
2. Currency
  • The site should be updated frequently. Health information changes constantly as new information is learned about diseases and treatments through research and patient care. websites should reflect the most up-to-date information.
  • The website should be consistently available, with the date of the latest revision clearly posted. This usually appears at the bottom of the page.
3. Factual information
  • Information should be presented in a clear manner. It should be factual (not opinion) and capable of being verified from a primary information source such as the professional literature, abstracts, or links to other web pages.
  • Information represented as an opinion should be clearly stated and the source should be identified as a qualified professional or organization.
4. Audience
  • The website should clearly state whether the information is intended for the consumer or the health professional.
  • Many health information websites have two different areas – one for consumers, one for professionals. The design of the site should make selection of one area over the other clear to the user.

MLA’s guidelines are an excellent starting point and should be used by anyone searching for Medical information on the internet. Many caregivers will also tell you to not search the web for information, especially if you have a Postpartum Mood Disorder. If you have a question and feel overwhelmed with doing research on your own, get in touch with a Postpartum Support International Coordinator, your midwife, or your doctor, and ask for help in doing research. Sometimes you may come across research or news stories that are not applicable to your situation that may cause triggering thoughts or increase your fear and anxiety without justification.

Another great way to check the reliability of a website is to do so through HONcode. HONcode, Health on the Net certifies websites with healthcare information. Their standards are pretty high and they certify on a random basis once a website has been accepted. (I’m currently working on acheiving this certification for this blog myself). Through HONcode, as a patient/consumer, you can download a toolbar or search directly from their site and will only be given websites that have been approved by them. Click here to learn more about the safety process at HONcode.

I also want to take a moment to mention that a good doctor or advocate will be compassionate, understanding, and work with you regarding your desired route of treatment. Good Caregivers and Advocates are able to stay objective and not allow personal experience to cloud their aid to those who seek their help. This does not dismiss advocates who have specialized knowledge of certain types of treatment however – what I mean by this statement is that if you approach and advocate with a question regarding an Anti-Depressant, they should direct you to research regarding that particular medication and encourage you to also speak with your caregiver. They should NOT bash said medication because they’ve had a bad experience with it. If the caregiver or advocate is not compassionate but instead dismisses or attacks your desired treatment methods, it’s time to find another caregiver or advocate for support.

As a Postpartum Support International Coordinator myself, I work very hard to support the journey the mother is on and the treatment route that best fits with her personal philosophy. I encourage the involvement of professionals – including her OB or midwife, a psychiatrist, and a therapist. I also encourage Mom to take time for herself, something we all forget to do from time to time, but is very important for our mental well-being.

So please remember to:

Thoroughly check the source of the information you are reading online using the above guidelines from the Medical Library Association as well as searching via HONcode for your information.

Double-check any information regarding starting treatment or stopping treatment with your professional caregiver prior to implementation.

Make sure your caregiver respects your opinion regarding your body. (You are of course, your #1 expert in this area!) If he/she fails to respect you, although it may be difficult, find another caregiver who DOES respect you!

Take time for yourself as you heal.

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6 thoughts on “Tips on Identifying Reliable Health Information on the Internet

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