Drink water to stay healthy! Eat superfoods to cure your illness! Lose weight just by doing steps x, y, z!
All of these claims can be found daily on the Internet. We live in the digital age where vast amounts of information can be found at our fingertips in mere moments. Searching the World Wide Web — just a few clicks on a computer — is the way a lot of us answer many questions, including those about our health. This has significant benefits — but it also can lead to vast amounts of untrue, half-true or potentially dangerous information being presented as fact.
The web can be an excellent resource for tips on staying healthy and information about specific diseases or health conditions. But it’s important to make sure that the information that you are reading is trustworthy health information. Here are some ways for you to evaluate whether what you are reading is reliable.
What is the source of this information?
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Do you know who published the information? The original source of the information should be listed somewhere on the site. Who wrote the information? If it wasn’t written by a health-care professional, was it reviewed by a physician, health-care provider or another medical expert? This too, should be listed on the page. If it contains statistics, does it cite from where they came?
How current is the information?
Some health information is changing rapidly as researchers learn more. You should be able to identify when the information was posted or updated somewhere online. Keep in mind some health information does not need to be updated as frequently.
Who manages the website?
Knowing who is managing the website can begin to tell you about the accuracy of the information posted. One way to do this is to look at the site’s home page or click on the links to “About Us” or “About this Site.” Sometimes health-related websites are published by the government (.gov), a nonprofit organization (.org) or a college or university (.edu). These sites are typically good sources of information.
Public health officials regularly refer to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (www.cdc.gov) for the best and latest information on a variety of health topics, and this is a good source for you as well.
Sites that are “.com” usually represent a specific company and are considered commercial sites. They also can offer useful information, but it is good to remember that these are being sponsored by commercial companies selling something.
Social Media posts
These days, with so many Americans sharing information on social media, it’s important to use the same criteria as listed above when you see something pop up in your social media feed. If someone has posted an article that seems too good to be true, do your research and check whether the information is factual.
One of the best sources of reliable health information is your own health-care provider. If you have questions, connect with your provider. If you find information on the web that doesn’t match what your provider has told you, ask that provider about it. Your health-care provider is the best source of information about your personal health.
Having a variety of sources of information and perspectives helps us to make better decisions. When health is at stake, good information based in science is very important. I encourage you to think about and evaluate your sources of information so that you can maintain your health and help others do the same.
Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, firstname.lastname@example.org or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.