What is the Internet?
The Internet is a huge store of information connecting networks of computers worldwide. Websites and social media pages can contain large amounts of information. Sometimes this information is accurate, but in some cases the information may be inaccurate or misleading.
Health information on the Internet
The Internet is a valuable resource for health information when used correctly. Online information can help you understand your illness better and help you to work with your doctor to get the best medical care. The fact that information is published on the Internet however, does not make it true.
Evaluating the information
It is important to evaluate the information you have found during a search on the Internet to make sure it is accurate and comes from a reliable source. When evaluating, think critically and don’t accept any information at face value.
Who is responsible for the website or social media channel?
- Is the information from a reliable website? Is it linked with a trust worthy institution or organisation? For example Healthdirect (www.healthdirect.gov.au) which is provided by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing can be seen as authoritative and reliable.
- Is the information written by health professionals? What are their qualifications? Is there a reputable
editorial board that reviews the information? Are the claims supported by references?
- Is the website or social media channel run by an organisation with a specific agenda or interest?
- Are there contact details on the page where you can contact the publisher or make comments and ask questions? By looking at the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) and the domain, you can learn ownership and/or sponsorship of the site. A person’s name in the URL may mean it is a personal site.
URL example: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/
(U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health)
Upper Level Domain may indicate:
.org non-profit organisation
Social media channels
Are the pages verified (tick next to the channel name)?
Does the page link to a website that has an Upper Level Domain?
Is the information accurate?
- Does the site base its information on facts?
- Does it use a sound scientific basis for any claims that it makes? If the information sounds unbelievable and has no evidence for its claims, it is probably unreliable.
- Is there a disclaimer referring you to independent medical advice? Health information gained through the Internet is not a substitute for professional, independent medical advice.
Is the information objective?
- Is the information presented without bias? Is it clear and well balanced in its details?
- Is there a conflict of interest such as being based on commercial interest? Are any conflicts of interest declared on the website? A web site published by a commercial organisation or business may be trying to sell a product and would be less likely to give any negative points relating to the product. Be particularly cautious if there is no evidence, but only testimonials to recommend a product or treatment!
- It is important to understand why the information is being made available and the purpose behind the site. For example Healthdirect tells us it is “a free service supported by the governments of Australia”
Is the information up-to-date?
- Does the information have a date it was created? This is especially important with health information, as it is constantly changing. When was the website last updated? This will indicate if the page is being kept current or not.
Does the content of the site meet your needs?
- Who is the site aimed at? If the information is aimed at health care providers it may assume knowledge of medicine that you do not have.
- Is the information easy to understand? What is the scope of the information?
- Are the links reliable and relevant? Do they work?
- Does it cite other reputable sources?
- Is the site layout straightforward to use? Is it well designed? Easy to navigate? This is important for you to be able to gain the most from the site.
- Anyone can publish information on the Internet – it doesn’t make it true!
- Be wary of incorrect information and false claims, and make sure that the website is not run by an organisation with a specific agenda or interest.
- Health information gained through the Internet is not a substitute for professional independent medical advice.