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Online health information - Is it reliable and still relevant?


Many people today turn to the World Wide Web (www) as their source for information to solve problems, answer questions and even for their medical advice. You can now watch "how to" videos on so many things. Nevertheless, how do we know that the website that we land on has solid, reliable, trustworthy information? I mean, everything on the internet is true…right? No, unfortunately not everything is of sound information, just like not all things natural, like hemlock, are good for us.

The www in World Wide Web could stand for wild wild west. I mean, anyone in any country can buy a domain name, create a website and put up any information whether it is true or not. There is no one in charge, and there are few rules and regulations. Therefore, when we do a search for something, whether it be about raising kids, our health, our finances or any other topic, how do we decide if the information that we find is reliable? Here are some simple tips to help you seek out reputable websites and resources, since not all online information is of equal quality.

First, look at who is hosting the website. What letters follow the dot? The web address can tell you whether it is a commercial website (.com), an educational institution (.edu), a governmental agency (.gov) or an organization (.org) hosted website.

Educational (.edu) and governmental (.gov) websites should give you non-biased research based and/or reliable information. Commercial websites could potentially be selling products, a person, an agenda or an idea, or they may truly have great information. Organizational websites could be those that serve members or a mission or have a purpose or cause. One way to investigate more is to read their "about us" section to see who is behind the website and then make an informed decision about the quality of information, product, etc.

The next thing you can look for is if the author of the information can be identified. What are their credentials or their authority on the topic? Are they trying to sell you something or benefit in some way from the website? If so, you may want the information garnered from that website vetted for accuracy or reliability.

Does the article encourage you to buy something or link you to a product? Is there a bias to the website? What kind of sponsored content is on the website? Who pays for the site? Does it appear to have an agenda? Alternatively, is the website simply sharing some valuable information? How recent and relevant is the information being shared? Has the website been updated recently? Look for dates on the material to see how timely the information is. Some information is timeless, but a good deal is not.

Does the website ask you to sign up before accessing information? Are they going to bother you with a lot of emails? Must you sign up before you can see what you want to know or read? Is there a privacy policy stated somewhere on the website?

Here are some websites where you may find useful, up-to-date information, as well as some, timely blogs that can help with individual, family and community health:

Financial Health Health
Food Nutrition
Child Development

The Internet is a tremendously helpful tool. It is at our fingertips via computers, tablets, and smart phones. In an instant we can look up almost anything, we must remember that not everything that we find is correct or even possibly safe. So, no matter what realm of health you are working on or looking for answers to, remember that it is best to choose sites that are more reliable and objective.

Photo credit: Glenn Carstens-Peters

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