How do you find reliable information?

If you’re like most people, you search the Web for information about a health concern (choice “a”).  Problem is, when you enter a term like “diabetes” or “cancer” in Google or other search engines, you come up with 50,000 or even 500,000 results!  Where do you start?  How do you know which sites are reliable? Is there a better way to find what you need – and what your primary care physician feels will work best for you?

When you are seeking information about a health topic for yourself or a loved one, how do you go about it?

What search criteria are likely to get the answers you need on the Web?

If you have a specific question about a disease or a health risk, type that question into the search engine at right. Make the question as specific as possible to narrow the results.

      UpToDate allows you to learn more about a medical condition, better understand management and treatment options, and have a better dialogue with health care providers.

If you are doing a more general search, or don’t find what you are seeking using UpToDate, follow these guidelines from the Medical Library Association and the National Cancer Institute for evaluating health information on the Internet:
  • Ask your doctor, who may have one or more favorite websites with information that matches the doctor’s approach to care of a specific disease.
  • Narrow your search on a search engine by combining terms, such as “insulin in diabetes” or “chemotherapy for lung cancer.”
  • Even better, use a general health information finding tool such as MedlinePlus from the National Library of Medicine or Healthfinder from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. These will point you to good, credible information sources.
  • When you visit a website, determine who is responsible for operating the site, who pays for it, and who develops and updates the content. Look for “About Us” or a similar box on the Home Page.
  • Select a website that is designed for consumers, not health professionals. Otherwise you may be thoroughly confused about explanations of diagnosis and treatment.
  • Make sure that information is referenced – meaning there is published evidence to support the information and that it has been updated in recent weeks or months (NOT years). Be wary of content that has no reference support!
  • Some websites clearly support commercial interests--for example, those of pharmaceutical or medical device companies. The content on these sites is often very helpful regarding specific information about or in support of a particular product. All information on these sites must comply with Food and Drug Administration regulations for accuracy and clarity.
  • Be careful about sharing personal information with any health information website. You may have to register with a name and password. Beyond that, make sure the site explains what it will do with your information. If it doesn’t, do not reveal your medical condition, your zip code, or any other data that could be passed on tomarketers.
  • Make sure you discuss what you have learned with your doctor. Be sure to ask questions if you find information that’s confusing to you.
Visit these websites for more resources on how to evaluate health information published on the Web:
  • National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet: Evaluating Health Information on the Internet [website
  • Finding and Evaluating Health Information on the Web: Medical Library Association [website]
  • Patient 101: How to Find Reliable Health Info [download PDF]

What are some useful websites?

The Medical Library Association has identified the following websites as being the most useful for health consumers. Web sites were evaluated based on the following criteria: credibility, sponsorship/authorship, content, audience, currency, disclosure, purpose, links, design, interactivity, and disclaimers.
MedlinePlus (includes health information in over 40 languages)

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