Search Internet Wisely For Health Information
By Albany Tribune
December 5, 2011
With the holiday shopping season in full swing, consumers are continually being cautioned to make online purchases only from reputable retailers and to ferociously protect their identity along the way. While this is unquestionably good advice, Health Net, Inc. is advising consumers to be similarly cautious when seeking health-related information on the Internet.
“The Internet provides a wealth of information about health issues, but not all of the information that you find online is reliable, and some misinformation could possibly be harmful to your health,” says Jonathan Scheff, MD, chief medical officer for Health Net, Inc.
Health wise web tips
To help consumers find credible health information online, Health Net is sharing the following tips that are based on guidelines developed by the Medical Library Association:
- Hone searches – Searching for a common medical condition can result in hundreds, if not thousands, of “hits.” This can be both overwhelming and not particularly useful. To achieve better results, combine terms to produce a more precise search. For example, the precision of search results can increase if the words “cancer” and “chemotherapy” are entered together versus entering the word “cancer” alone.
- Use tools – Irrelevant results can be reduced by starting off with general health information tools such as MedlinePlus (http://www.medlineplus.gov/) which is operated by the National Library of Medicine or Healthfinder (http://www.healthfinder.gov/) which is from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- Uncover sponsorship – It’s important to know who is responsible for the website, because this can shed light on the site’s credibility and motivation. The site’s address provides some information, in that sites operated by the government will have “.gov” in their address; an educational institute will have “.edu” in the address; a nonprofit, professional or scientific/research organization will have “.org” in its address; and a commercial site will have “.com” in its address. Somewhere on the site there should be more detailed information about the sponsor.
- Determine currency – Health information is continually changing. As a result, it’s important for websites to update their information frequently to reflect the most current findings and innovations.
- Assess sources – In addition to ascertaining the site’s sponsor, it’s also important to determine the sources used by the site to cull its posted information. Medical research is the best source for health information, and it’s not enough for the site to simply claim that its content is based on the latest research. Instead, site content should clearly indicate the source(s) on which it is based.
- Find reviewers – A credible health information site should have an editorial board of qualified medical professionals who review all content posted on the site. The names and affiliations of the editorial board should be posted somewhere on the site.
Scheff offers one additional suggestion: “While the Internet can provide helpful information, no medical decision ever should be made without first consulting with your health care professional.”