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Published on July 02, 2015

Don't Be Fooled: Where to Find Reputable Health Information Online

Online Health ImageWhen you have a persisting headache or sore throat, a mole you think may have changed, or a newly diagnosed medical condition, you're probably tempted to hop online to figure out what your ailment is or to learn all there is to know about your condition.

If you succumb to this temptation and start scouring the Internet for more information, will you be able to decipher if you're reading from a reputable source?

“People can either become misinformed or unduly alarmed if trusting medical sites that have not been vetted,” said Dr. Jonathan Sternlieb, Abington Hospital and Abington Lansdale Hospital’s chief medical information officer.

There are new websites and blogs popping up online every day sometimes underwritten by TV or radio personalities with ties to the medical community that can make claims about symptoms associated with various medical conditions. Absorbing this type of information and believing it is factual and applies to your own health can be problematic and should always be vetted with one’s primary care provider, he said.

“If someone wants to deceive, they can make it look really official. Just because a website appears to be official doesn't mean it's reputable,” Dr. Sternlieb said.

When it comes to TV or radio personalities, he said you have to ask yourself “why are they talking about it?” Did they just write a book they’re trying to promote? Are they endorsing a product or medication?

“Listen, be receptive, but also verify. You would never use a show or any personality online, on TV or on the radio as the provider of your healthcare – that’s just someone rendering their opinion without a full evaluation,” Dr. Sternlieb said.

And, if you’re looking at a personality’s website, check to see if there’s any degree of proprietary nature to it as it could be an advertisement, not unbiased health information.

That’s not the only thing you can look for to make sure a website is legitimate and contains reputable information.

“The HONcode is a non-governmental watchdog group that certifies websites from ethical (not content) standards. You would see the code, for example, on the bottom of the title page of WebMD,” he said.

Another way you can ensure you’re reading reputable health information is by obtaining that information from official government websites, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website and the U.S. National Library of Medicine website. In addition, the U.S. Health and Human Services website provides links for health information.

If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with a new medical condition, you can learn more about it without worrying if the information is reputable by going to the condition’s official society’s website or seeking referrals for websites from your healthcare provider or support group, Dr. Sternlieb said.

“You should never only use [the Internet] as your source for healthcare. But it is important to understand more about your condition, that's where the true strength of information online on trustworthy sites lies,” he said.

And, when in doubt, if you have any questions or concerns about your health or something you’re reading about your health online, validate it with your healthcare provider.

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