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Finding Health Information on the Internet

by Elizabeth M. LaRue, PhD, MLS, AHIP

Having a writer’s name attached to the site or to the article and other media on the site is another way for you to check its credibility. Is this person a well-known authority? Does the site list his credentials and any affiliations (such as to a hospital or university)? Can you find other works by this writer elsewhere on the Internet? Knowing about the writer helps you know more about where the information is coming from and how reliable it is.

Audience. The audience of a Web site is the readers for whom the content is intended. For example, some health Web sites are intended for medical professionals, and some are intended for nonprofessionals. Those aimed at professionals tend to assume a certain amount of medical knowledge and to use more scientific language and technical terms. They are likely to be less useful to most nonprofessionals. To get the most from a health Web site, look for one that you can readily understand.

Timeliness. Since some health information changes quickly, while some stays the same for years, you need to know whether the information you are reading is up to date, so look for dates on the Web sites you visit. Most often, a copyright date can be found at the bottom of the home page, near the publisher’s name. That may tell you that the publisher is actively maintaining the Web site — if the date is current — but it doesn’t necessarily tell you when content items were written or posted online.

Some Web sites list a date for the creation of the Web site, some have a date for the creation of each content item on the Web site, some list the date that content items were posted, and some have “reviewed” or “updated” dates. Ideally, a review or an update would mean that all of the information in the article or other item has been thoroughly checked and updated. It can mean that, and some sites even tell you who updated it. But it doesn’t always: Sometimes it just means that someone check all the links embedded in an article or checked that the images look OK. Currently, there is no foolproof way of knowing what “updated” means unless the site spells it out somewhere.

Sharing your information
Generally, people look for health information on the Internet to better understand a condition that they or a family member has, or to research ways to treat or manage a medical condition. Educating yourself in this way is a terrific way to take greater charge of your health. However, before you make big changes in your diet, exercise regimen, or some other part of your lifestyle, and before you start using any dietary supplements you may have read about online, check it out with your health-care provider. Even products or practices that sound safe and healthful may have little-known side effects or may interact with parts of your usual diabetes care regimen in ways that can’t be predicted by someone who doesn’t know you and your individual situation.

Your health-care provider will appreciate it if you evaluate the sites and the information you find on the Internet for quality before you bring it in to share with him. When you share it, tell your provider where you found it (the name or URL of the Web site) and why you feel it’s credible information (for example, because the publisher is well-known and reputable). Be sure that any printouts you make include the date or dates associated with the information. Together you can discuss whether and how this information might be beneficial to you.

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Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.



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