Tips for Finding Accurate Health Information on the Internet

December 3, 2013 Montana Cancer Center at Providence St Patrick Hospital

If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with cancer or another serious illness, you’re probably on the hunt for more information on the disease process, treatments, etc. Since more than 75% of American adults have internet access, it’s no surprise that’s the first place you might turn. But, can you be sure the information you find is current, accurate and trustworthy?

If you use a general search engine like Google or Bing, the results can be overwhelming and frustrating, especially when the sites you visit vary in quality or even contradict one another. Even worse, you may find something that’s so technical, you can’t make heads or tails of it.

How can you quickly find information you can understand? Simple, start with websites designed with you in mind and bookmark your favorite. The following sites are well known for their high-quality patient information:

  • MedlinePlus combines the best of both worlds: it’s easy to use and features up-to-date, accurate health information. And, my favorite: no advertisements.
  • The National Cancer Institute conducts and supports research, training and consumer health information related to all aspects of cancer – from cause to rehabilitation.
  • The American Cancer Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to understanding, preventing and curing cancer, while supporting those in treatment.
  • The Mayo Clinic Foundation is a non-profit leader in medical care, well known for their high-quality, patient centered care.

But, if you want to expand your virtual horizons by searching other sites you’ve found, how do you know if a site is trustworthy? Here are a few tips:

  1. Where does the information come from? Is the site easy to navigate? Look at the “About Us” page. How easy is it to find this information? Is the site run by a branch of the government, a non-profit institution, professional organization, health system or hospital, commercial organization or an individual? Examples of good sources of health information are the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Johns Hopkins University, Mayo Clinic, American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society.
  2. What is the purpose of the site? Is the site a chat or discussion room? Are they trying to sell you a product or service? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Every day, people are tricked into spending money on miracle cures that are as likely to harm as to heal.
  3. Does the information sound too scientific? A good consumer health site will explain clearly and completely, “big words” or medical terms will be hyperlinked or defined and the source of the information will be posted – or, better yet, hyperlinked. Shop around to see if other websites support the information you’ve found. You would ask for a second opinion from a doctor, so why would you automatically believe what you read on the Internet?
  4. How old is the information? Medical information can change quickly, and a website that is years out of date may provide incorrect or dangerous information.
  5. Protect your privacy. Avoid websites that ask for personal information such as name, address, date of birth, gender, mother’s maiden name or credit card number before providing you information.

Remember Your Care Team

Humans are curious beings. And, likely, you’ll find the lure of the internet irresistible. But, don’t forget about your care team. They know your case better than anyone and can offer a wealth of information. Don’t hesitate to ask questions on your next visit, or give them a call if you can’t wait.

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