Getting Accurate Online Health Advice

Submitted by SharpHealth Team on Saturday 9th October 2010
In this article
  • How to recognize reputable information sources.
  • How to spot bogus health sites.
  • Where to find accurate online health information.

According to Cyber Dialogue, an electronic trends tracking company, more than 24 million adults are using the Internet to answer health-related questions. An unfortunate by-product of this trend is that more and more bogus sites are popping up every day. As a consequence, you may find that the medical advice you’re retrieving from the Internet may not be all it’s cracked up to be.
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Although casual reading may be harmless, to the extent you turn to so-called "health sites" for advice on specific treatments, it’s imperative that the advice you follow come from a source you would turn to in the brick and mortar world.

Check out these SharpHealth tips for finding a reputable medical advice site:

Recognize the Source

It’s always a good idea to begin your search for medical information at Web sites affiliated with a reputable source, like a medical school or association.
Once there, be aware of the source of the information. Who is supplying the medical information featured on the site? Is it a doctor? A medical student? Someone with way too much time on his or her hands?

Be especially weary of copycat sites, or sites that use a name similar to that of a well-established site. For instance, the URL of the American Medical Association Web site is www.ama-assn.org. A copycat site might use ama-assn.com as its address. Could the two easily be confused? Definitely.

Insist on Current Information

Many diseases, including AIDS, diabetes and various forms of cancer, consistently enjoy the introduction of new findings, information and treatment protocols. If you’re researching a disease or looking up possible symptoms, it is vital to get the latest information. For this reason, always check the "posting date" of the article you are reading. If a posting date is not available, check the bottom of the home page for information on when the site was last updated. Alternatively, consider e-mailing the site’s webmaster at webm...@domainname.com (use the domain name that applies).

Red Flags for Surfing Small Sites

An advantage of the wired world is that small organizations have an opportunity to post information that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive to disseminate on a worldwide basis. Many times these small sites provide more information — in greater detail — than the large commercial medical sites. Unfortunately, small, unknown sites that disseminate inaccurate information — some aiming to promote a bogus product — abound. There are several warning signs that help consumers distinguish an amateur (and potentially bogus site) from a reputable organization:

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First, be wary of sites featuring "miracle cures." Always consult other resources to get additional information on the treatment proposed by the site.

Second, any site that offers to sell a treatment or product should be evaluated closely. Legitimate health sites (unless they are a commerce site that also provides some health-related content) do not often sell products aimed at "curing" the condition described.

Third, pay attention to the site’s construction. Are the articles clear and concise, or are they laced with poor grammar and spelling errors? The manner in which the articles are written can be a good indicator of the quality of advice the site offers.

Finally, always trust your gut. If a site seems too good to be true, it just might be.

Always Refer to Your Doctor on the Serious Stuff

While searching the Internet for health information is a great way to broaden your understanding of existing conditions and health concerns, online information should never be used to self-diagnose or self-medicate. Remember that online advice is no substitute for a doctor’s physical evaluation. Always consult your physician before taking action regarding any serious physical condition.

For More Information

Check out these well-regarded medical information sites to begin your online health searches:

  • www.healthfinder.gov – Developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Healthfinder provides a plethora of consumer health information in an easy-to-use format.
  • www.familydoctor.org – Familydoctor.org was developed by the American Academy of Family Physicians and provides search and browse formats to find information on any health topic.
  • ndri.com - Health news, article and discussions.
  • www.cdc.gov – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sponsors this site that features a special "spotlight" section on current health developments.
  • www.lungusa.org – The official site of the American Lung Association.
  • www.heart.org – The official site of the American Heart Association.
  • www.ama-assn.org – The official site of the American Medical Association.
  • www.aap.org – The American Academy of Pediatrics sponsors this site as a resource for parents.
  • GeneralHealthTopics.com - offers quick guides to healthy living, personalized health advice on wellness, diet, fitness, weight loss and anti-aging etc.
  • www.medicinenet.com – A 100 percent doctor-produced site, with articles written and/or edited by doctors.
  • www.aaaai.org – This information-packed site of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology provides information for allergy sufferers.
This article last updated on Sunday 12th February 2012
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