During the past ten years or so, the Internet has grown into a tool that allows us to keep up with friends and family, follow the news, shop, share photos, and much moreall of which can be a real boon for an older adult. What’s more, the Internet can be a convenient place to get the answers to all of your health questions, right from the comfort of your living room. But with so many health websites available (there were over 20,000 in 2007), how can you find reliable advice that’s safe to follow?
Fortunately, there are smart, easy steps you can take to make sure that the information you read on the Internet is accurate, safe, and expert. Here’s how:
Know the source. Always look for an “about us” page on websites. This page will tell you who publishes it. Websites from the federal government, universities, and major non-profit organizations, such as the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, and the American Cancer Association, usually have high-quality websites. At the AGS Foundation for Health in Aging, we focus on producing useful resources of special interest to older adults and their caregivers.
Look for the site’s contact information. If a website doesn’t provide an easy way to contact the organization, approach its information with caution.
Who’s an expert? Look for recognized experts as writers or reviewers of information on health websites. Experts may be doctors, professors, nurses, psychologists, social workers or other professionals experienced in a particular field. Top experts will often hold university-level teaching positions.
Look for expert reviewers. Check the “About Us” page to see how the information is reviewed. Make sure that reviewers are experts. For example, cardiologists should review heart health information. Sites that have attorneys or lay people review the information are suspect.
Check the review date. Health information changes rapidly. High quality websites reveal the date reviewers last checked the information.
Know about web “addresses.” The last three letters of a site’s address help you identify the kind of organization that sponsors it.
.gov sites are funded by government agencies .edu sites are from educational institutions .org sites may be non-profit, scientific, or research sites .com sitesanyone can have one. Although there are some exceptions, .com sites are often used to sell or promote products. Sites with a .com address should be approached with caution when used for healthcare information. Look for evidence. Reputable sites will back information with medical research, and will cite the actual studies.
Be wary. Steer clear of products or services that claim to provide miracle cures. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Avoid products that contain “secret ingredients” or those “your doctor won’t tell you about.” Insist on scientific proof for all medical claims, and double check information on several credible sites. You should always consult your healthcare provider before starting any new medical therapies or supplements.
Check certifications. Look for the Health On the Net Foundation (HON) logo, which should be displayed on a health website’s home page. This non-profit organization accredits health websites that stick to certain principals to assure that the information on the site is reliable.