Looking for Health Information Online? Don’t start with Google.

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

This is the first of an occasional series of blogs featuring research tips from NYAM librarians.

We’ve all done it: You leave the doctor’s office and want to know more information about a new diagnosis or other health concern. So you go to your high-tech device of choice and search the Internet.

A NYAM Librarian conducts a PubMed search.

A NYAM librarian conducts a search in PubMed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to the latest Pew Internet research on the topic, 72% of Internet users went online to find health information in the past year. Of these people, 77% started by using a search engine.¹

But a general Internet search may not be the best way to find high quality health information online.

As we all know, anyone can put information online. Just because something is on a web page does not make it reliable. Fortunately, there are excellent sites that present a wide range of trustworthy health information.

When I look for health information online, I usually start with one of the following sites. If they link to other sources, I know the pages have been vetted:

MedlinePlus
This National Library of Medicine site provides authoritative information from government agencies and nonprofit organizations. It includes a very helpful drug and supplements guide.

HealthFinder
Health information from the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The CDC is especially helpful when looking for trends and statistics.

National Institutes of Health
Each NIH Institute offers a wealth of consumer health information related to its area of interest.

There are other excellent options listed on our recommended resources page under the tab “Public and Consumer Health.”

Sometimes you do need to use a search engine. As I teach my Junior Fellows students, there are questions you need to ask to assess information found online:

1. WHO wrote it? Is it an organization or an individual? What is the person or organization’s bias?

2. WHAT makes them “an expert”? What kind of organization is it? Is it written by a patient? A healthcare professional working in the field? Is there a scientific or medical advisory board assessing the information?

3. WHERE is the author located? Is the website .org, .edu, .com, .gov? Each type of site has its own reasons for sharing information.

4. WHEN was the page last updated or reviewed? Health information can change quickly. The more current, the better.

5. WHY is the information on the Internet? Is the author trying to sell a product or service or raise money? Is it there to help patients and caregivers?

6. HOW does it look? Is it easy to read? Are there lots of advertisements? Are things spelled correctly? Does it make you uncomfortable in some way?

Want to know more about evaluating online health information? MedlinePlus has you covered.

1. Pew Internet: Health (23 April 2013) Retrieved May 22, 2013, from http://www.pewinternet.org/Commentary/2011/November/Pew-Internet-Health.aspx

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