We have all come across a piece of information and wondered, is that true? Or perhaps been told a fact by someone else, who read it on the “internet,” so it must be true. With lots of sources for information and inaccurate information, it can be hard to know what is credible health advice and what is not. Here are a few ideas on how to sort out the good versus bad information, and where to look for reliable information.
Website ownership or sponsorship
A general rule for finding reliable information is to find information on a website sponsored or maintained by a federal government organization. A website ending in .gov means it is one of the top-level domains and owned by the U.S. government. Other domains, like .edu, are for educational institutions, .org is for non-profits (like medical, scientific, and research societies), and .com is for commercial websites. Other reliable sources would be from well-known large institutions or medical schools. Large organizations like the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, National Institute on Aging, and other national health institutes are all research, education, and outreach organizations working on a specific disease state or healthy aging. Medical institutions like the Mayo Clinic, M.D. Anderson, the Cleveland Clinic, and other national medical institutions are nationally recognized hospitals and research centers, so they are a great way to find the latest and greatest from a trusted source.
Do not be afraid to ask questions
Like above, you can ask yourself questions like, “who hosts or sponsors this website?” Websites cost money, so there is funding required to generate the page and maintain it. Knowing the funding source of the website can give you insight into the organization that is providing the information and give you insight into their intentions. Are they trying to sell you something? Are they trying to share something? You might ask yourself, “who wrote or reviewed the information?” When names are listed on an article, that is a good way to look up and see their connection to the website, what their credentials are, if they are truly an expert contributing, or are they getting something financial or otherwise from an investment in or contribution to the website. Dependable sites should tell you who is sharing this information and where they got it from, meaning they should cite their sources. You can also ask, “how I can find out more?” By citing their sources, you can read the original research or find more information about the topic. Additionally, sites that have contact information where you can follow up with the author, contributors, or sponsor, like an “About Us” or “Contact Us” page, mean someone is likely monitoring that email and it is okay to reach out.
Quick and easy solutions
Personal experiences or statements can be powerful, but they do not account for how everyone is going to react. Not every person’s health history is the same, and there can be major differences from person to person. Do not let one “good” outcome from one person replace seeing your doctor and using good common sense. If the solution sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Look for dramatic writing styles and see if you can find the same information or same wording in multiple places. If the website cannot cite its sources, or only uses testimonials. it likely was not gathered through scientific research and they are likely trying to sell you something. Knowing the intention of the website and when it was written can be helpful. Older information does not mean it is bad or inaccurate, but it should be looked at carefully. Medical research is being done constantly, and we are regularly learning new things and coming out with new updates. If a date is not provided for the information or at the bottom of the page as to when it was written or last updated (or was not updated within the last year) it means the information is not under regular review. Therefore, it could be outdated.
Give yourself time to review medical and health information to be sure you are getting the whole and accurate picture. Do not feel rushed to make decisions or into buying a product. Trust your gut, and continue to seek regular counsel from your doctor and health care providers.
Where to find reliable health information:
Kimberly Burke is a lecturer in the Department of Health and Exercise Science and the director of their Adult Fitness Program at Colorado State University. Adult Fitness offers exercise opportunities for employees of CSU as well as community members while providing hands-on learning experiences for health promotion students. To learn more, see the Adult Fitness Program website