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EVALUATING WEB SITES FOR
 CONSUMER HEALTH INFORMATION
 

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:

Content and Scope of the Site

Who is the intended audience for the information? This information should be easy to find either on the site's main page or a link from the main page.  Look for a link that says "About us", or something similar.  It should clearly state that the site is for consumers, for  professionals, or both.

 Is the site content rich or merely a set of links to other sites? Who selects the content and the links for the site?

 What is the purpose of the site? Why does the site exist?

 Is the site unique?  Does it offer information not available elsewhere or is it simply a rehash of information easily obtained from a more authoritative source?

    Example:  -   Oncolink - University of Pennsylvania
                      Mission statement included and describes the purpose of the site.

Authority

Who is responsible for the site? Is this information clearly stated on the site's main page or is there an easy to find link to this information?

Are credentials given for person(s) in charge of the site? Is the person a physician, a researcher, or someone with a personal interest in the topic?

Are sources for this information clearly stated?  References for all material, such as the author, title, medical journal or book title, and date should be given to back up facts and figures.  Names and credentials for information specifically written for the web site should be given.

Is an individual's name and e-mail address given so that you can ask questions about the site? If there is, test it to check the site's response time.

Do external links lead to sources that meet the above criteria for authoritative information?

    Examples: Drgreen.com - children's health information
                         Oncolink - editorial board
                   Gives credentials of individuals responsible for content of site.

Currency

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 other sites updated frequently or are there dead links?  More than a few dead links could mean the site is not well maintained.

    Examples: Mayo Clinic - Addison's disease
                         Oncolink - overview of the treatment process - radiation oncology
                   Shows when article was published and when it was last reviewed.

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?

    Example: Cancer.gov - National Cancer Institute
Well organized website. 

Security and Privacy

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 would 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.

     Example: MedlinePlus - privacy statement
                  Includes a clear statement of the site's privacy and security policy.
 

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For more information on evaluating Internet sites, read what others have to say: How to evaluate health information on the Internet : questions and answers from the National Cancer Institute and the Code of Conduct from the Health on the Net Foundation
 

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