The Internet has a lot to offer, but not all sources of consumer health information are reliable, easy to use, and worth the effort to locate. The following are points to consider when evaluating Internet sites for consumer health information:
A. Content and Scope of the Site
# Who is the intended audience for the information? This should be clearly
indicated on the site's main page.
# Is the site content rich or merely a set of links to other sites? Links are ok if that is the intended purpose
of the site.
# What is the purpose of the site? Is it a commerical site whose goal is to eventually sell you something?
Not all commercial sites sell products or are necessarily "bad".
# Is the site unique? Does it offer information not available elsewhere or is the information readily available
in print sources which are more authoritative, better organized and easy to read? Don't be fooled into
believing that information provided by a computer always equals quality and convenience.
# Who is responsible for the information? Is this information clearly
stated on the site's main page?
# Are credentials given for person(s) in charge of the site? Is the person a physician, a researcher, someone
with a personal interest in the topic, but not necessarily someone with a medical background?
# If the site is produced by a consumer organization or professional health association, is there an individual
or group of individuals with medical expertise serving as consultants or advisors?
# Is an individual's name and e-mail address given so that you can ask questions about the site?
# Do external links lead to sources that meet the above criteria for authoritative information?
# Is the information revised and updated regularly? Are individual articles
signed and dated?
# If dates are given, is it clear what the dates mean? Dates can mean when the information was first written,
first included on the site, or last revised.
# Are external links to sites that are updated frequently?
# Are there dead links to outside resources? More than a few could mean the site is not well-maintained?
D. Ease of use
# Are menus arranged logically? Is it easy to determine from the main page what's available on the site?
# If the site has multiple links or features, is there a site map that lays out exactly what's included?
# Is the entire site searchable? If the website is large, this is an absolute must.
# Is there a good balance of internal and external links?
# Is the site easy to navigate? Are the function buttons easy to find and clear about their purpose?
E. Security of the site
# Is information about the security of the site clearly stated?
This is especially important if the site
asks you to fill in forms with personal health information such as your age, medical condition,
drugs for which you’d like information.
# Is there a clear statement that personal health information
you shared with the site is not made
available to other organizations or companies.
# In general, think twice about entering any personal information on
a health site. Security
and privacy policies may be clearly stated but may not be followed. For more information
read about a recent study conducted by the California Healthcare Foundation . Also, read an online article
on privacy titled “What the Internet knows about me” which was published in the August 2000 issue of
Consumer Reports .
Remember - the Internet is another information tool and not a substitute for standard print medical sources.
For more information on evaluating Internet sites, read what others have to say.
Health On the Net Foundation - Code of Conduct for Health & Medical Information on the Internet