Did you know...you have to be careful when finding health information online?

Editor June 13th, 2011

The Internet is a great resource to learn about health, but sometimes what you find online may be confusing or inaccurate. Here are some tips to make sure you are getting trustworthy health information online.

1. Be smart with search engines.

When you type keywords into search engines such as Google and Yahoo!, they often return thousands or even millions of results. To select the best websites, stick to the first or second pages of the results as they are most relevant to your keywords. Of these first two pages, usually one or two of the first five results are your best bets for good websites.

2. Look at the website name.

The last three letters of the website address (".gov", ".edu", or ".org") can give you clues about who is providing the information you read. Websites with these endings are likely reliable websites tied to government, or educational institutions such as colleges, universities or hospitals, or non-profit organizations.

3. Click on the "About Us" section.

Most web pages have a section about who the organization or person is and what they do. Read this section of the site to learn more about the company or organization, including why they created the site.

4. Look for contact information.

A trustworthy website should have a way to contact the web page creator or organization by phone, mail or e-mail if you have questions or concerns. If there is no contact information, it could be a sign that the creator or organization does not want to be contacted directly about the information on their website.

5. Check when the page was last updated and if links still work.

There are different ways websites update information. Social networking sites, blogs or news sites usually show the date of when individual articles were posted. Other websites do not have the dates on each article, but the year or date when the website was last updated should be clear and usually found at the bottom of the page. If a company or organization is still in business, the site should have a recent year or date. Websites that are updated regularly also have links that work. While websites that are two to three years old may have good information, be sure to continue searching for more recent facts as new or updated health research is often available.

6. Be skeptical of websites that try to sell you something or that make outrageous claims.

If you are looking for information about a medical condition or treatment, but only find that the website directs you to buy a product, service or claim miracle cures, do your homework and see if there are other websites or books that can give you ‘proof' of the results. If it seems too good to be true, trust your gut.

7. Know what the HON code means.

The Health on the Net Foundation (HON) is a non-profit organization that monitors the information and trustworthiness of health and medical sites. Any organization can apply for HON certification if they want to give their website visitors an extra reason to trust their material. HON reviews each applicant's website for accuracy, qualifications of the authors, and other clues of credibility. There are many excellent websites that do not have the HON code, but you can generally trust the ones that do. Visit www.healthonnet.org for more information about HON.

8. Don't give up on technical websites.

Sometimes the health information you find online is not written in an easy-to-read way. You are the best judge of your understanding of what you read. If you need help in figuring out specific medical terms, try "Deciphering Medspeak," the medical dictionary developed by the Medical Library Association: http://www.mlanet.org/resources/medspeak/medspeaka_d.html#A. You can also print out anything you don't understand to show to someone you trust who might be able to help you, such as a friend, family member or doctor.

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