Complementary Health Approaches

Frequently Asked Questions

33. What should I know about health information on the Internet?

The quality of health information on the Internet varies. Some Web sites provide good information, but others have information that is inaccurate or out of date. You need to evaluate individual Web sites carefully. If you’re considering making a health decision based on information you found on the Internet, it’s a good idea to discuss it with a health care provider and to bring printouts of the Web pages to your appointment.

To evaluate the quality of a health-related Web site, try to answer these questions.

  • Who runs the site? If this isn’t obvious, look for a link to an “About This Site” page.
  • What is the site’s purpose? Is it there to sell products? Does it promote a specific viewpoint? The “About This Site” page should include a clear statement of the site’s purpose.
  • What is the source of the information? Many health sites post information collected from other Web sites or sources. If the organization in charge of the site did not create the material, the original source should be clearly identified.
  • What is the basis of the information? Look for references to scientific research that support what the Web page says. Keep in mind that personal stories and opinions are not the same as objective evidence-based information.
  • Is the information reviewed? You can be more confident in the quality of medical information on a Web site if qualified people review it before it is posted. If experts have reviewed the information, their names will usually be mentioned on the Web page.
  • Is the information up to date? Some Web sites are updated regularly, but others aren’t. Outdated medical information can be misleading or even dangerous. Many Web pages include a date when the information was last reviewed. Look for it near the top or bottom of the page.

Rather than searching the Internet, it’s often easier to find reliable health information online by visiting U.S. Government health Web sites where all of the information has been checked to make sure it’s accurate. Links to several useful Web sites are given in the answer to the next question, along with other suggestions on where to find reliable information.