Online health consumers should be wary because medical misinformation or 'cyberquackery' is rife.
Make sure the website is owned by a reputable organisation before you decide to trust its content.
Don't use online health information to self-diagnose – always see your doctor.
With the proliferation of Health information online, surely it is welcomed to make patient education easier, which can only be good, yes? Unfortunately, not entirely as with the sharp increase also comes some quite unsubstantiated claims which can be hard for the general public to distinguish. The Victorian Department of Health has created a great checklist.
Remember that this or any other checklist isn't foolproof. Generally speaking, you should ask yourself the following questions before deciding whether to trust the information presented on a medical website.
Who is responsible for the content? Check whether the website is owned or sponsored by a reputable organisation. Every affiliation should be clearly shown on the home page or via a link from the home page.
Look for credentials and qualifications. Be especially wary if the people responsible for the content are anonymous.
Can you contact the owners of the website via email, telephone, fax, regular mail and street address? Be wary if the owners don't offer any means of communication.
Are the sponsors directly influencing the content? Is the role of the sponsor(s) clearly outlined?
Is the website trying to sell you products or services? If so, there may be a conflict of interest. For example, the website publishers could be wording their content in a way that is designed to encourage you to buy their product. Advertising should be clearly differentiated from information.
Does the website have a disclaimer about protecting your personal health information and privacy.
Is the health information consistent, or are there contradictions?
Does the website provide information about both the benefits and risks of treatments or therapies? Do they discuss more than one option? Do they compare the costs and effectiveness of each treatment or therapy? Does each article include a list of references? Are the references from reputable organisations or publications?
Is there a review process for the content? Are the clinical or scientific articles reviewed regularly by professionals in the field who are not directly employed by the website owners? Is the review process explained?
Useful Tip: Start with the Gordon Medical Centre Resources page for reliable Health Information.